Monday, October 13, 2008

Gee Hell Sure Does Look Familiar: The Last 26 Miles

Each and every one of us said that it could not happen again. It just couldn’t. This year’s Chicago Marathon would be cooler; heck, knowing Chicago it would swing violently in the other direction, and we would be running in a blizzard.

A girl can dream.

To be fair to those of us who ran last year, the weather was moderately better on Sunday.

Yesterday was about four or five degrees cooler than last year’s marathon. At the height of the day, we topped out around 84 degrees rather than last year’s 89 degrees. The humidity was significantly lower, and in the shade, with a breeze, running was very nearly pleasant if a bit toasty. But, in the direct sunlight (miles 14-16 anyone?), running was a miserable experience, and the scene -- as the temperature rose and the day wore on -- looked eerily similar to the 2007 marathon -- tired, hot runners walking through hoses and dumping water over their heads.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The weekend was filled with family and friends, runners and supporters, pasta and… well, more pasta. On Friday afternoon, MM and I picked up running buddy Meg at work and headed to the Chicago Marathon Expo. Meg, you may remember, had her ACL replaced in June and was unable to train for the marathon, but had registered for it months earlier. She was just released from physical therapy with the blessing to start running again.

We wandered around a bit, picked up our packets and goodie bags, stopped at the PAWS booth to pick up bright red "CHEER SQUAD"shirts for our friends and family, and I bought the documentary The Spirit of the Marathon. Then we loaded everything in to the car, and headed to Lindy’s for some homemade pasta courtesy of her best friend from New York City.

On Saturday, my mom and her husband drove up from Ohio to watch the race and pawn some furniture off on MM and me. With my family here, MM and I decided that the easiest and cheapest thing to do to prepare for the impending marathon would be to invite his family, who lives in town, over for dinner at our place, and we could all celebrate together. This plan quickly spiraled out of control, and we ended up cooking for a fairly large and apparently ravenous crowd. Regardless, I learned that MM, who is generally very quiet, loves to jump into action -- from artfully arranging the cheese platter (which I did not ask him to do, nor would I have done myself) to entertaining guests with his favorite story about his cousin’s bike accident (yes, sick, but the cousin is fine, and the story is actually pretty funny) -- when faced a group of party people at his home. MM and I agreed that our first attempt at entertaining anyone as a couple in our new house was a great success if not slightly insane right before our biggest race of the year. We kicked everyone out by 8:20pm, and drove my mom and her husband downtown to their hotel. We were in bed by 10:30, and of course, I barely slept.

Race morning came too quickly. MM and I were on a brown line train headed to the start line at 5:37am. We had ample time once we arrived at the race so we wandered around Charity Village, stretched, went to the bathroom multiple times, and ate bananas. If you’ll remember, MM got himself a shiny corralled bib as a result of his super fast CDC half marathon time. But, because I had no one at my pace to line up with and/or because I started crying when we went to part ways, MM ditched the seeded corral and lined up with masses so he could stay with me. Isn’t he a good boyfriend?

At 7:59am, the gun went off and it only took us 17 minutes to cross the start line. MM ran with me until we passed my mom and her husband about three quarters of a mile into the race. They took our picture, MM kissed me good-bye, and off he went to set a new world record.

The weather, at this point, was OK. I was feeling pretty good, and the first seven miles went by fairly quickly. At mile 7.5, I was in for a major moral boost. @ and Bill were waiting to cheer me on with Smartwater and Gu. @ powerwalked with me as I downed the Smartwater. Off I went through Boystown, which might very well be one of the liveliest sections of the race -- cheerleaders, men in women’s clothing dancing on tables, crowds about six people deep. It’s nothing short of a block party in Boystown.

After I passed mile nine, I knew I would be alone for a bit so I put on my headphones, zoned out, and, though it was starting to get hot, made it to mile 13 in under three hours. I noticed, around this mile that my right ankle was beginning to hurt, a definite new, unfamiliar pain, which was not comforting considering that I was staring 13 more miles in the face.

At mile 13.5, a several welcome faces greeted me. First of all, Freedom Runner (FR) was there in her running clothes ready to jump in with me. Her husband was on the sidelines taking photos and cheering me on. And, if that wasn’t enough, Nikkie was there with much needed sunscreen (I totally blanked on wearing sunscreen that morning) and more water.

FR stuck with me for five miles, which was a godsend. I started alternating between running and walking due to the ankle and… oh right... the extreme heat and direct sunlight. I rallied, and as the miles wore on, I ran more and more of it. It was around this time -- probably between miles 16 and 17 where I started to become a bit delirious, regularly asking questions like, “Did we pass a mile marker?” and “Did we turn somewhere?” and “Which direction are we headed?” I finally asked her if she minded if I put my headphones on for a bit, and I began experiencing the usual mix of emotions that come with a ridiculously long run -- laughing one minute, nearly in tears the next.

The truth is, as hot and miserable miles 14-16 were, I remember having fun. FR and I went through a few aid stations that were blasting music (I distinctly remember the Beastie Boys) and I’m pretty sure I danced through them. I love to dance when I run.

At mile 18.5, FR passed me off to the Lindy, who would see me through to the end. She had pretzels, and after I ate one or two of those, my mental state seemed to balance a bit. She and I continued to alternate running and walking, though my ankle was getting progressively worse. Shortly after mile 20, @ and Bill were there with more Smartwater, and news that Joey had passed earlier, and he did not look happy.

That's @ coming out to meet Lindy and me after mile 20.5. Sadly, I think I'm "power walking" in this photo. Photo credit. P.S. I received some fantastic photos of MM topless. HAHA. Unfortunately, he said he would break up with me if I posted them on my blog.

At mile 22, we saw my mom, her husband, and MM's mom who had waited three hours (because I was one of the last runners) to see me. Apparently though, my mom who is not a runner and doesn’t really get the whole racing thing, was having a fantastic time cheering for everyone who had pinned their name to their shirt.

At mile 24, Meg was waiting for Lindy and I, and with her PT’s blessing, she was ready to run with us. However, we were walking. Well, I was half limping/half walking and nearly convinced that I was doing so on an ankle with a stress fracture. At this point, I became increasingly worried that I wasn’t going to finish -- not because I was going to quit -- but because the sag wagon was going to pick me up. I asked Meg and Lindy to turn around several times to make sure that there were still runners behind me. I needed to keep looking forward. At mile 25, we were joined by two more runner friends who jogged/walked with us. Seriously people, I had a freaking running entourage.

At 25.2, I said, “I’m running this last mile.” And I did… flagged on either side by two runners. At mile 26, two of the runners peeled off, leaving Meg, Lindy, and me to finish together… as it should be. I sprinted the last 100 yards, and doubled over just past the finish line thinking I was about to puke (isn’t running awesome). Then I hyperventilated for a bit on the brink of tears. I settled down and a medal was put around my neck.

Then I visited the medical tent. They told me I have tendonitis. Awesome. I shouldn’t do, “anything that hurts.”

In reality, as hard as the second half of the race was, I mean… I just ran a freaking marathon. I just ran a marathon in one of the greatest cities in the world with some of the biggest, most supportive, and fun crowds. The Chicago Marathon when done right (and as hot as it was, the organizers stepped up and did it right) is nothing short of a party. An amazing, inspirational, decidedly tough and emotional party. For the entire city. And shit, I'm a marathoner now.

I could not have done it without all of the people who came out for me -- Mom, Ron, MM’s mom, @, Bill, Nikkie, Freedom Runner and her husband, Lindy, Kristin, Beth, Leslie, and Meg. WOW. And honestly, had FR, Lindy, and Meg not jumped in with me, I don’t know that I would have been able to push through the pain that second half. It sure would have been a lot harder and a lot more demoralizing.

For those of you who are curious, MM had a very rough second half to his race as well. He began cramping up and had to alternate running and walking through to mile 23 or so, where he cramped up so terribly he collapsed. Luckily (?) he was in front of a Baptist church and several of the congregation's women saw him fall. They rushed over to him and began praying and singing, their hands hovering over him. Apparently, God wanted MM to finish this race. A police officer also saw him go down and brought him Gatorade, which was probably a little more helpful. MM finally got up and walked in his race, finishing just under 4:52:00.

So there it is. My first marathon (MM's sixth). Six hours, twenty-eight minutes, thirty-four seconds. A long, slow race, slightly brutal race, but I can’t help but smile… and cry a little bit.

Would I do it again? Well, the way I see it, there’s not really a choice. I mean, sure my time was “respectable” for a slow runner in “extreme” conditions. But really, we (me and my alter ego) can do better than that. Eventually, one will have to test that theory.

Also… a shout out to some friends who also ran the race -- Erika, Alex, Dave, Justin, Rosin, and Tenacious P (who had to stop her race at mile 10 because she was ill, but she's already signed up for another marathon in a few weeks and trust me, she'll do awesome!).

And one final note... I realize how lucky I am to have friends who understand and share this drive to push themselves to run farther than is considered sane for reasons that -- on bad days -- we often cannot remember, much less verbalize. But we keep moving forward. Because somewhere, sooner or later, there’s a finish line and a medal and glory and hugs and high fives and war stories and laughter and camaraderie and a big meal and the promises of “never again,” until inevitably someone asks, “So… what’s next?” And without missing a beat, we start naming races.


Freedom Runner said...

The only greater honor than running with you yesterday is getting mentioned in your blog entry about the marathon. :o) YAY!
I am so glad I could help you out. And we do live in a fantastic city. Someday soon I'll see all 26.2 miles of that route with ya...but most likely by bike instead of on food. :oP

Roisin said...

Congrats was hot out there!!! But this time, you finished and you kicked some ass in the process. And from what I could tell, there were PLENTY of people behind you. When my mom and I were heading to the train, we saw the sweeper buses coming through and there was still a sizeable crowd behind them.

Congrats again, I was thinking about you the whole time!

RBR said...

AWESOME!AWESOME!AWESOME! I am so proud of you! You, Lou, are a MARATHONER!

Way to handle the heat (seriously, I think you all are jinxed. It is Chicago in October for Christ sake) and push through the pain to get it done! Very cool to have so many friends come out and support and love you through this marathon. (Major kudos to MM for starting with you)

We seriously MUST, MUST, MUST run a marathon together! How much fun would we have?! Maybe Flying Pig in 2010? Just thinking out loud here...

Justin said...

Again, you rock Lou! I am honored to have survived Sunday with you, Joey and your entourage. Someday we will all kick ass on a cool morning. Wishing you a speedy recovery.

Lindy said...

DAMN RIGHT you will run it again!!!!!! WOO HOO, way to go Lou! It was so great seeing you finish. Even when you didn't know if you would make it, I knew you would! You rocked it!

(And I am loving the story about the women surrounding MM and singing and praying, LOL.)

Glad he is ok, too. Sounds like it would have been scary to see.

Nikkie said...

You are totally inspirational Lou. Seriously I think I'm going to try for it next year. I had a nice 4 mile run on Saturday, which is leaps and bounds above where I was just a few months ago. Give it a year of may just happen :)

Sarah said...

Your post brought tears to my eyes – I’m so proud of you! I'm also sad I couldn't be there as part of your running entourage. Next year! Congrats!

heidikins said...

Dang girl, you are amazing. I'm so up for a half next spring! Yay!!


erika said...

Great post, Lou. You summed it all up perfectly. A huge congratulations to you, and who knows -- maybe (and that's a big maybe) we'll be out there again next year.

Kendra said...

I like the medical tent advice - "anything that hurts". I would think cooking and cleaning are included.

Congratulations on completing your first marathon! I know you well enough to know that there will be at least one more in your future. :-) Maybe you should do one in the winter in Texas. It only gets to about 60 here then. :-)

Roisin said...

You look so freakin' good!!!!