My dear friend Chuck and I, along with 36,159 other finishers, ran a 26.2 mile loop around the glittering city of Chicago.
With Chuck in the start corral, blissfully unaware of our impending fate.
It seems physically impossible at this point that 26.2 miles actually came out of me just 14 days ago, but they did. Sometimes triumphantly, but mostly in a greatly labored, painstaking fashion. Despite following my training schedule almost exactly to the letter, running 310 miles over 12 weeks, peaking at 21.4 miles -- allow me to be the first to say that running a marathon is difficult, difficult, lemon difficult.
I was planning on being overprepared, training on the hills of Prospect Park in 95+ degrees and crazy humidity all summer. Chicago is famous for being an 'easy' beginner marathon, known for a fast, flat course and relatively cool temperatures. I had hit overtraining points at various instances in my training schedule, experiencing dead legs, frustration, and declining motivation. But I had rested it out, recovered and finished my schedule strong, running my last 10-miler on a mountain in Aspen. Strong legs, strong lungs. I felt ready.
October 10, 2010: my personal day of atonement. The marathon started off brilliantly - 60 degrees, a breezy beautiful day in Chicago. Chuck and I laughed at the people who stopped to walk as we easily peeled off the first 10 miles, waving at our DFCB comrades at the 6.5.
It got harder, and much hotter, from there. I remember looking longingly at the 13.1 mile marker, remembering how fun it was to run the Phoenix RnR half and realizing that I was going to have to double that distance before I could rest today. Oof.
By 15 miles, Chuck and I both realized that the wheels were falling off. It was a mental game from there on out.
I honestly don't know how we got through the rest of it, but we did. Playing the alphabet game along the way definitely helped. Seeing my wonderful parents at the 17-mile marker gave me a crucial boost. Having my amazing boyfriend cruise on the sidewalk across from us on a bike in the final miles was more or less necessary. Also, having one of my best friends struggling alongside me was a HUGE help - we've both said we didn't know how we would have finished without the other.
But we did. Finish, that is. That was all I had set out to do - finish, preferably without walking. Aside from walking through the water/aid stations and two bathroom stops (one with an agonizingly frustrating 20-minute wait), I ran the whole. Damn. Thing. The wimpy girl who could never once run the mile in high school without walking, the clumsy girl who was always picked last for every team, ever, the bookish girl whose 4.0 was marred by A-minuses in gym - I ran a marathon, in five hours and 45 minutes.
And that is pretty cool.
That may have been my last marathon - the jury's still out. The whole thing was really hard on my body, my knees - it's a rough undertaking, to train for something like this. Really gratifying in the end, though. I'm so glad that I was able to participate, thrilled that my body allowed me to be part of such an incredible, life-altering event.
It took me a long time to write this wrap-up post, partly because it's planning season at work and things have been a little nutty, and partly because it took me that long to come to terms with what I had really accomplished. I missed my goal time by more than an hour. My runner friends were tweeting about their terrible finish times, people who had beat me by more than two hours. I was mortified. It took me this long to realize that I didn't need to be embarrassed, that my incredibly slow time didn't make me a failure.
It makes me a marathoner.
A hug from my runner father, post-race.
My three key marathon take-aways:
1. Unless you're an amazing natural athlete, and even then, do NOT disregard your training schedule. A marathon is a big freaking deal. Your body deserves to be prepared for it.
2. Support system, seriously. I don't know how I would have finished the thing without Chuck, Clay and my parents supporting me the whole way. Also, be sure to write your name on your arms. Random people cheer for you the whole way and it's completely amazing. And entirely necessary, in my case.
3. Be proud. Even if your time is a completely mortifying five hours and 45 minutes, be proud. You've done something that the majority of people will never be able to do, and that's pretty remarkable.
Next, I seriously gotta nail that triathlon.