Marathon #4: 2007 Chicago Marathon: 5:12:53
Still on the quest for my BQ, I set my sights on the Windy City. The Chicago Marathon touts itself as fast and flat. Everyone I talked to about the elusive BQ suggested I try my legs at Chicago, it was held in October and tends to produce perfect marathon weather.
So I registered for a race that attracts 40,000+ athletes. I trained all summer through the hottest days Mother Nature gifted us, and I was feeling confident, yet still nervous as race day approached.
My mom and I decided to drive the 6 hours to the city, and my cousin Jesse, a Chicago police officer graciously offered us a place to stay in his condo and promised to be our personal taxi when needed. All the plans were following into place perfectly.
On Friday morning my mom and I headed on our road trip. We made excellent time, even with making a few pit stops; we both seem to have small bladders, and I was hydrating like it was my job. When the GPS told us we were 3 miles from our final destination, traffic came to a screeching halt. Road construction, rush hour and the influx of travelers for the 30th Annual running of the Chicago Marathon made things absolutely insane. It took us 3 hours to travel the last 3 miles of our trip. Yes, that is 1 mile per hour. FML.
Of course during a 3 hour period, I had to pee, again. I did what every other self-respecting person in a bind would do. I leapt into the back seat of my mom’s Rav-4, covered my lap with a blanket, grabbed an empty Gatorade bottle, dropped my pants and strategically placed it beneath me so that I could empty my bladder. Things were going well until I realized that there was a LOT of urine inside of my bod, and I needed something else, as the bottle was almost full! Mom reluctantly handed over her favorite travel coffee mug in the nick of time and I was able to stop mid-stream, switch out containers and finish up my business, without spilling a single drop. I deserve an award for this.
After my display of public urination, I was able to relax the rest of the trip. We finally we made it to my cousin’s home, and I made a beeline to the rest room and emptied my beverage bottles in the toilet and threw my Gatorade bottle and mom’s travel mug in the trash. Ha! 🙂 Then I immediately hopped on the internet and checked the weather report. It felt rather warm in the city to me that day…Well, the weather showed it was going to be insanely hot and humid for race day. I immediately freaked out internally; I race HORRIBLY in the heat. I was going to fall apart, I just knew it. But I didn’t tell anyone my concerns, nor did I let my fear show on my face. I said some prayers, and tried to just continue to hydrate and finalize my game plan for the weekend like getting to the expo and the starting line.
On Saturday, my cousin drove me to the expo, dropped me off so I could run in and grab my race packet, and picked me back up as soon as I was out of there. The traffic in the city was insane, and there was a serious lack in parking, and we had reservations in Little Italy with my other two cousins and their significant others and children. So I had to make my expo visit quick which was fine by me. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate large crowds?
After dinner I checked the weather again, and the forecast didn’t improve. In fact, it actually got worse. Ugh. I immediately popped onto the race website and onto the Runner’s World website. There were suggestions for how to race smart in the heat, focusing on hydration, signs of heat stroke, etc. Excellent. These warnings didn’t ease my fears, but also didn’t cause me to lose all hope on my BQ dreams.
I tried my best to get a good night’s sleep, and before I knew it, it was time to get up, slam some breakfast, and head to the subway station. My cousin dropped my mom and I off as he headed into the police station as he had to work that day. He was assigned help direct traffic as well as assist with injured runners during the first few miles of the race.
When my mom and I entered the subway, I was surprised by how empty it was. We got comfortable in seats near the back of one of the cars, and just relaxed as the train continued on its way. As we made multiple stops on the way into the heart of the city, the cars progressively got fuller to the point that there was standing room only and I finally understood the term ‘packed in like sardines’. It was hot as balls, I was sweating, and having a mild panic attack at the number of people near me. WTH was I thinking, signing up for a race this huge with my pure hatred of crowds?! We finally made it to our stop and spilled out of the cars and into what I hoped was going to be some refreshing air. It was more like walking into a wet blanket. The air was hot and humid in the early morning light. Not good.
We walked a short distance to the starting area and I immediately got in line for the porta-johns. While in line for no more than 10 minutes, I was drenched in sweat. Just standing there! Oh it was absolutely miserable. After doing my thing, I gave my mom a hug and a kiss, and made my way to the starting corral. Holy moly, there were SO many people. My previous marathons had no more that 10,000 people. This was 4 times that size. WTF was I thinking? All by myself, I tried not to freak out, and just soak up the moment and feed off all of the energy buzzing around me.
After country singer and fellow marathoner Jo Dee Messina belted out the National Anthem, it was go time. The gun went off and…nothing. I was at a stand still. It literally took at least 10 minutes before I got to the starting line and was able to even kind of jog. The first couple of miles ticked by at a slower than goal pace, and I was already feeling exhausted. I missed the first couple water and Gatorade stops because there were people standing in line for refreshments. I thought ‘Oh hell no, I can survive until mile 3’. Um, classic rookie mistake. I was dehydrated by the time I made it to the starting line and my body was in survival mode ever since.
The rest of the race was sheer hell, a total death march to the finish. I made it to the half-way point and knew I wasn’t anywhere near my goal time, and decided just to dig deep and finish. There were people collapsing all around me. Every aid station had crowds of runners laying on the ground, packed in ice. Fuel stations were running out of water and sports beverages. Spectators were buying bottles of water and handing them out to as many runners as they could. Others were handing out sponges soaked in ice water. Firemen were spraying us with hoses. Everyone was doing whatever they could to relieve us from the heat as best as they could.
I was out of it. I started taking walk breaks as I was cramping up everywhere in my body. I would run for about half a mile, and walk for a quarter or so of a mile, and I continued to do this until the very end. By mile 21, police officers were using megaphones telling us that the Medical Director had chosen to close the race. We all needed to start walking, for our health, for our lives. I didn’t have to be told twice. We had the option to walk to the finish, or to get on air-conditioned shuttles to the finish. Now I was hurting, but I was going to finish this damn race, even if I had to walk. Then up the middle of the street came a 50-something old man with a long pony tail fist-pumping and shouting ‘Resist them! Resist them! Don’t let them tell you that you can’t run! Resist them! They can’ stop me! This is bullshit! Resist them!’. I’m not even kidding.
So I started running again, and then shortly after resuming the death march, I puked in my mouth. I noticed I was no longer perspiring. Oh lord, this was not good. This chica, in addition to being an athlete her entire life, took her fair share of first aid, health and exercise physiology classes. I was fully aware of all the signs and symptoms of heat stress and heat stroke. Not gonna lie, I was pretty scared. But I took some deep breaths and continued on the way.
Finally, I began to see signs that the finish line was near. To my surprise there was still a huge crowd of spectators, and by the finish line, the race time clock was still clicking away each second. I mustered up all the strength I had remaining and gave a last-ditch effort of a kick and crossed the finish line in my slowest marathon to date: 5:12:53.
I received my medal, some Gatorade and pretzels, and stumbled around towards Buckingham Fountain where I agreed to meet my mother. Thank God for technology, I had signed up for the athlete alerts, and my mom was getting various race splits send to her cell phone, so she knew I was still out on the course, traveling toward the finish. She also said if she knew anything, it was that I was too stubborn to pull out of the race, so she waited patiently and tried not to worry too much. When I finally found her, I gave her the biggest hug ever and immediately began to sob and collapsed to the ground in sheer exhaustion. Oh it was horrible. It was surely the worst experience of my life. I just wanted to shower and go to bed.
Thank God for my cousin. He and his partner picked us up in their cruiser and took us back to the police station where we sat with some of the other cops on break, and they treated me to some sodas as we waited for my cousin’s girlfriend to pick up my mom and I. Seriously, I may not have the best luck with actual race performances, but my support crews are always second to none.
I eventually survived a painful shower, a quick nap, and then was able to meet up with one of my oldest and dearest friends, Lindsey and her boyfriend Jack. They took me out to one of their favorite hangouts and treated me to some pizza, beverages and lots of laughter.
Even after a hellaciously epic marathon, the obsession with earning that BQ only grew. I knew I was going to try again, but had no idea when. Liz tried to convince me to suit up again the following weekend at the Columbus Marathon, but I declined, claiming she was insane. There was no way I could run another race so soon and I had already agreed to volunteer at the finish, handing out medals to all those who ran the race.
Wouldn’t you know they had the most perfect of chilly, yet sunny October days in Columbus a mere week after my trip to Hell and back. Just my luck.
Me at the start. Lookin’ rough. Ick.