I applied for the Chicago Marathon lottery in 2021 although I knew that my chances were slim. To my surprise I, along with a surprising number of athletes, was accepted. At that time I would only have a few months to train and I just finished my 52 week half marathon challenge so I chose to defer. Covid19 was still relevant so I wasn’t sure how the crowd support would be. Also, I just wasn’t in the mood for serious training and it was the best decision I could have possibly made.
After I completed my registration for the 2022 event I took advantage of the amount of time I had to prepare. I read the posts on the FaceBook group that I belong to and chose a hotel based on their recommendations. I booked a hotel within a five minute walk of the start and finish lines. All of the best hotels were already booked so I settled for the only one with an available room. I was told that it wasn’t the most modern hotel but it was extremely convenient. I will elaborate on that a bit later. My husband booked our plane tickets in the following weeks. We saved a lot of money because the gas prices were low at the time thus the plane tickets were reasonable.
I had started my weight loss journey in February to limit the amount of weight on my knees during the marathon and also to be faster on the bike without having to train harder. In June I had reached my target weight and in July I lost a couple of extra pounds. I wasn’t dieting, I was simply eating less fat by making better food choices. I tried to lose even more weight but I couldn’t because I was eating to fuel my activities. I knew that eating less really wasn’t an option. Every pound lost is an extra two seconds per mile gained. I gained twenty five seconds per mile. Although extra time would’ve been amazing, it wasn’t in the cards for me.
I came up with a 20 week training plan for my long run distance that I kept in the notes app on my phone. I put a check mark on the completed runs. It was all going very well until I realized that, halfway through, I had the timeline wrong. I contacted a coach that I know for help once I realized I screwed up and he was able to offer very good training advice. He helped me revise my long run plan and advised doing/not doing a couple things. I am extremely grateful for his help! After that I screwed up again and had to run my 20 mile long run twice but I figured I’d be twice as prepared…..
When my long runs got really long I was surprised at how quickly my body was moving at a lower heart rate. I mostly felt good after my longer runs and my knees were never sore. The last time I ran a marathon my knees were sore afterwards and they were sore after my long training runs as well. I was very optimistic about my performance for this marathon.
I was extra careful over the entire course of my taper. I didn’t train that hard to have something happen and wash away my dreams of running this event. The last week of my taper was a blessing in disguise. It rained every day so I couldn’t ride my bike outside. I was forced to ride the trainer on my birthday. It’s easier to control my legs and go easy on the trainer. It was probably the best thing for me……
A few days before the marathon my wallet was stolen and tension was rising at work. I did everything that I needed to do to get my affairs in order. I knew then that everything would be alright because I’ve already experienced my bad fortune. I was definitely right about that. The day before I left for Chicago I received the news that my application went through with Civil Service and I was officially hired for my new position.
The day before I left for Chicago I took the day to get ready for my trip. The weather for the marathon would be almost ideal running conditions. It would start in the low 40s and rise to the mid 60s by the end of the run with clear skies and sun. It would be cold while I’m in the corrals awaiting the start. I read in my Facebook group that people were buying cheap bathrobes from the thrift shop to wear in the corrals to stay warm. I went to the thrift shop and found a ridiculous looking fleece lined onesie. It was the tackiest thing I’d ever seen but it was very warm and it was my size so I bought that funky onesie.
The day before the marathon I woke up early to get my shakeout run in before heading over to the airport. I knew I’d be doing a lot of walking at the expo and during my travels but I needed to take that time to breathe and get my mind straight. Also, I’m afraid of gaining weight. Our flight left on time and our luggage was safely aboard the plane with us. I had all my race gear and nutrition with me in my carry on just in case of foul play with the checked bag. We landed in Chicago ahead of schedule and headed over to the train. We would be using mass transit during this trip.
There was a large banner welcoming the runners in the train station. The line to get our tickets were very short, the people that traveled the day before experienced long lines. I suppose it pays to come a day later. The train tickets were even marathon themed which got me excited. The train ride was uneventful and we arrived at our hotel around noon. Of course our room wasn’t yet ready. We left our luggage with the concierge and then went to lunch close to the hotel. I knew I had booked a hotel close to the race but I didn’t realize that it was literally across the street from the gate that I needed to access my corral through, gate three. I was so excited, this event was going to be awesome!
We took the train to the expo. The lines were also very short at the expo, many athletes experienced long lines the day before. After we collected my bib and gear bag we walked around collecting samples. My husband doesn’t drink so I got to drink his beer sample as well as my own. I bought a cute Chicago themed Under Armour tank top and I took a few pictures in front of the various backdrops. The expo was pretty cool but it paled in comparison to Disney. Nothing beats Disney. We took the train from the expo to the market to buy a few things before heading back to the hotel.
When we got back to the hotel we were told that our room still wasn’t ready and that it would be another hour. We explained that we were here earlier and couldn’t believe that they still didn’t have a room for us. I was very concerned because I needed to put my legs up. Upon re-checking the gentleman at the front desk realized he had a room for us after all on the tenth floor. The elevator was outdated but very fast. The tenth floor hallway had a very horror movie type of look to it. The hotel was never updated, it had the same classic look that it likely had when it opened. The high ceilings were cool though. Our room was small and felt hot. The sun coming through the blinds heated the room. To our surprise the windows opened and we were able to get some cool air into the room. The bathroom was tiny and the shower had poor water pressure. And to top it all off every few minutes we could hear the passing train. We just had to deal with it.
We went to an Italian restaurant for dinner so I could have my typical pre race pasta meal. When we got back to the hotel I prepared my breakfast and my race nutrition. I trained effectively eating peanut butter, honey, and banana sandwiches and drinking Tailwind. I no longer take in processed sport bars or beverages with unnecessary ingredients in them. I went to sleep early. Although I thought I wasn’t nervous about the event, I had a nightmare that I couldn’t get ready in time for the race and I couldn’t find my corral. Needless to say I didn’t sleep soundly.
I woke up two and a half hours before my corral would close. I wasn’t sure how long the security lines were so I left the hotel an hour before I had to be in my corral. It was surprisingly easy to get through security and I had plenty of time. I filled my bottles and walked around to find the trash. I was spotted by someone from the FaceBook group in my ridiculous onesie. We chatted for a few minutes and then I decided to use the restroom while there was still plenty of time. The line for the porto potties were long and I wouldn’t make it in time if I stayed in line. I, along with about five other women, went into some bushes that we had found. I conveniently had tissues in my pocket. I accidentally peed on the hood of my onesie. The good thing is that the clothes are laundered prior to being donated.
I made my way into my corral and waited patently with thousands of other participants. They were taking off their throwaway clothes and placing them on the fence. We still had about twenty minutes before we would be released from the corral so I held onto my onesie for as long as I could. Once our wave started, we began slowly walking to the start line. About five minutes before we were to start I finally took the onesie off and placed it in one of the bags that a volunteer was holding open. I was gonna miss that tacky peed on onesie but it had served it’s purpose.
I had finally made my way to the start line. I started to run and started my watch as soon as I crossed over the timing mat. It was a nice slow start as there were thousands of us crowded together. After I passed through the tunnel it started to thin out and I could see the blue tangent line that would have my focus for the remainder of the event. Because of the tunnel my Garmin was confused and recorded the first mile ridiculously fast, for me anyway. Until I reached the 5k timing mat I wouldn’t have any idea of my actual mileage. About 2 miles in I saw a guy carrying a sign that said “Almost There” and I boldly called him a liar. He laughed and said something funny back.
My husband was waiting for me at mile 2 but I didn’t see him. There were over a million spectators so, unless I knew his exact location, I would surely miss him. I didn’t get my kiss at mile 2 but we was going to meet me with a fresh bottle at mile 13. The crowd was so hype, I had never experienced anything like this before. At no point was I not surrounded by runners or people cheering wildly. I loved the signs they were carrying, they were funny as hell.
Although my legs were fresh and ready to go I kept an even and sustainable pace. If I felt good later on I could always pick up the pace. Mile after mile I stayed as close to the blue line as I could but I had to go around so many other runners. The metal on the bridges were slippery so I had to run over the carpet on the opposite side of the blue line. I knew I would be over the distance by about half a mile, also taking into account the way my Garmin recorded the first mile. None of it mattered though because, no matter what, I would have a PR. I hadn’t run a marathon in over 2 years and I was in top form for this event.
I wish I could give you a breakdown of what I did during each mile but it’s a bit hazy. I ate a quarter of my sandwich each 5.5 miles and I drank liberally. My husband text me with his exact location when I reached mile 12. I used Siri to read and write messages, I even spoke with him around the 5k mark using voice commands. As I neared mile 13 I started looking at the street signs, searching for his location. I was carrying my bottle in my hand to facilitate the exchange. He was standing near an intersection where the crowd had thinned a bit. I was so happy to see him. I stopped while handing him my empty bottle and got the kiss that I had missed at mile 2. I took off quickly taking the fresh bottle with me. I had a bottle and a half to last me the rest of the way.
I was getting a lot of encouraging texts from my friends and family who were tracking me on the app. At the 30k mark I remembered to look up and wave at the photographers. I was having a great time but I was counting the miles down all the same. I didn’t see the beer fairies but I did see their empty cups on the side of the road. I was going drink from them but I missed them. I didn’t even know that there were college boys handing out jello shots, I would’ve had those too even though they’re not technically vegan. I did see the guy handing out tequila shots but I knew that was a terrible idea. I saw a Selden Hills jersey and knew, without even seeing her face, that it was someone I knew. As I was pulling up to her I put my hand on her back and called her name. We chatted for a moment before I ran off. She had been running the blue line just as I was.
Around mile 18 I could feel my aching quads and it was starting to get warm out. There was little shade on the course. I could see a row of tents on either side of the street. As I was running through the volunteers cheered us on, I finally saw the sign that this was charity row. It was very cool. Some of the runners had stopped and were taking pamphlets and chatting with volunteers of the various charities that were present. Although I considered stopping every mile from then on, I was a woman on a mission. I wanted to PR on this course. I didn’t have to run fast, I just had to run.
I ate the last of what I had at mile 21.5. I didn’t realize that I did remember to put my emergency gel in my pocket. I grabbed a gel from a volunteer to have just in case but I would have to save it for the last few miles as I wasn’t sure how my stomach would react to it. Around mile 22 I started dragging my feet. Around mile 23 I considered walking for a bit as I had seen so many others do over the duration of this event but I didn’t. I didn’t have to run fast but I did have to keep running. I thought I had seen my name in neon but it had to be just a mirage. A spectator called out my name and I looked at him but it was nobody I knew. He must’ve been cheering on someone with the same name.
Around mile 24 I considered eating the gel but it wouldn’t metabolize in time to give me a jolt to the finish line. I was confused by the runners on the opposite side of the street. Would there be a U-turn in the course to the finish line? At mile 25 I knew that there was no turn. I was seriously dragging my feet but I knew that this would all be over soon. There were signs announcing the last 800 meters, then 400 meters. And there it was, Mount Roosevelt taunting me up ahead. I made it over that small hump that appeared to be a mountain. It was just 200 meters more to the finish. I picked up the pace and finished just as strong as I could possibly finish. It was over and I had survived my very first big city marathon.
I started walking with the rest of the runners down the finish line row. I started crying when I thought of what I’d just accomplished and I was thinking about my mom. I saw some volunteers wearing red jackets and I started walking over to a woman but then she started helping someone so I walked over to a young man and started hugging him while crying on his shoulder. He held me back and let me cry for a few moments. He was really very sweet. After I had my cry I thanked him and walked down the row to collect my medal.
After collecting my medal I took a water and then posed for the photographer. I had bought the photo package on an early bird special so I wanted to ham it up a bit. I took an apple, a banana, and some of the other offerings including a bag to put it all in. I took a mylar blanket and then, finally, I saw the beer being handed out. I walked right over to it and a nice gentleman opened up a can and gave it to me. It wasn’t the best beer but it was extremely refreshing. A nice lady and I were chatting as we walked while drinking our beers. It was very nice speaking with her. We parted ways and I found a bench to put my things down on and was talking to another nice lady while I stretched. My muscles were really stiff and it felt amazing to stretch them out. Although my quads were on fire my knees weren’t sore at all which was a first for me. My husband called me while I was stretching and told me where he’d be waiting. I was going to bring him back to the finish line party for my second free beer but I was in no mood for that. I wanted to shower and grab a beer after.
I met up with my husband and we walked across the street to the hotel. We went up to the room and I did a couple things on my phone and used my massage gun. The shower was hot and felt really good although it lacked pressure. I got dressed and then headed down to the hotel bar for a drink before having an early dinner. I told him all about the race and then my dad called and I told him about it. I had PRed by about eight minutes. If it didn’t get warm towards the end of the race I would’ve done better but I was very happy with how it all went.
The event was run very smoothly and all of the volunteers were pleasant. The crowd exceeded my expectations and there was a huge party in the streets! I had a great time on the course except for maybe when I was somewhat catatonic at the end. It turns out my name really was flashing in neon and there was a picture of me on the screen at mile 23 so that guy really did know my name. Despite having a good time I wouldn’t run this marathon again because, in my opinion, it’s just too flat. There’s no variations in the terrain to keep things interesting for my legs. I prefer to have more variety in my runs.
Thank you for supporting and encouraging me throughout this journey to the finish line. I’m truly lucky to have your love and support. I’m not really sure yet what the next challenge will be but I look forward to starting the next chapter in my professional life. After twelve years with the same company I look forward to a fresh start in a brand new field. I encourage you all to chase your dreams and accomplish things that you may not have thought possible. This life is short and you should really truly live it!