Chicago Marathon 2017 Recap
Chicago was my redemption race.
One hard fought after 18 very long, very painful months of illness followed by burnout, then injury, then chronic self doubt, then health issues, and frankly, some of the hardest, slowest training steps I'd taken in more than five years.
In the end, it was more about the journey than the destination.
Really and truly, this race was about finishing. About understanding the difference between being sick and needing to quit; being overtrained and needing to slow down; being injured and needing to take a break when your body didn't get the memo about the other two warning signs; and just being a really fucking hard day, but knowing you can push on and get to the finish line. Which is exactly what I did.
While my mind accepted that my Boston DNF was a fluke, that I was legitimately ill in the moment, my body just never bounced back. In fact, I found out less than two weeks before the Chicago race that my enteritis in Boston was actually the beginning of ongoing GI issues plus chronic adrenal and muscle fatigue I kept shrugging off (AND doctors kept dismissing) as possible depression-related lethargy or mental weakness or hormones or aging or slowing metabolism. Turns out it was none of the above. I have serious food insensitivities on top of candida, a histamine intolerance, and adrenal fatigue, all of which explain why even after I healed from my plantar fasciitis and started training again this February, everything felt awkward, slow, and unfamiliar. Save a few glorious track workouts, I felt like I was running in someone else's body.
I *knew* I was in better shape than ever. My Pilates and yoga workouts proved it. I was more flexible, working deeper from my core, recruiting my glutes and hamstrings instead of my hips. I was disciplined about massage, dry needling, foam rolling, chiropracty, yoga, and stretching. But my legs just would not get with the program. I saw long run paces of 9:30, 9:45, even 10:00+ minute miles that yes, were a dream to me when I first started long distance training ten years ago, but I hadn't been that slow in years--even accounting for summer heat (which normally doesn't phase me). I had to stop and walk or catch my breath on most of my runs more than 16 miles. Every time I stepped out the door for a long run, I wondered if I would finish. Most of them I did, but almost all of them I cut short. 18 became 15. 19 became 17. 21 became 19. 23 became 15. I made it through one 20 (with a half marathon sandwiched between warmup and cool down) and one 21 without issue. And yes, the long run isn't everything, but when you're struggling with confidence, pace, and distance, it can go a long way into making you feel secure about your race.
Ultimately, it was enough to get me through Chicago.
My time? 4:08:18, my second fastest marathon ever, but more than 30 minutes off my breakthrough BQ race at Albany 2.5 years ago.
At any other point in my competitive running career, I would have been disappointed. Devastated. Inconsolable. My coach gave me a 3:43 goal; 3:47 for a warm day (which it was). I knew he was stretching, but also trying to push me and give me a carrot--even if it was a long-shot BQ. But my brain and body knew going in that 3:50-3:55 was much more realistic. The day dictated otherwise.
BUT I FINISHED. For once in my life, it was enough. I was enough. Walk breaks and all. Tears and all. And they were happy tears. I ran with joy, even when it was hard and hurt with every step. Because I was there. Running a marathon. And I was going to finish, no matter what.
And that's exactly the tenacity that got me through my first marathon, all 5 hours and 11 minutes of it. I had no time goals that day. No ambitions or illusions. Just a mission to finish after having to miss out on the first marathon I trained for because I got the swine flu ten days before race day. A few months later, I ran the first half of that 2010 Publix Marathon in under two hours, naive and confident and unaware of the struggles that lay ahead. And then I started puking at Mile 15. Newbie mistakes and missteps around nutrition and hydration and pacing. If I'd had that race experience today, I would have quit. Instead, I stopped, puke, ran, walked my way to the finish--and the med tent.
Having been from that extreme of "I just want to finish" to the high of finally achieving a BQ (and a 31 plus minute PR in less than a year) should make it easier to appreciate the in betweens.
I wasn't immediately grateful for the humbling. I got to a place where I felt disheartened every time I looked at Strava or Instagram and saw people who were where I was two years ago running sub 3:30 and even sub 3:20 marathons. Doing "easy" long runs in the low 8s, when I could barely pull out that pace for a 5K, when I had been consistently running that distance in the low and sub 22 range for years.
But what could have been my damnation became my salvation.
Instead of being bitter about what others were doing, I embraced the social aspect of running. Sought out others who were hurt and struggling. Cheered on those who were doing well and achieving their goals.
I was very public about Chicago training and for a reason. I knew I would back out given any possible opportunity. There was not one long run or one even mid tempo run I wanted or had any desire to do from mid June on.
It became about survival and pride.
And bless my friends. The ones who texted and messaged me daily. Asking what my run was that day, consoling me if my paces or distances weren't on target, cheering on my small victories in the track, loving me and encouraging me for the runner I was in that moment--not who I had been before.
Robin, Jack, Jordan, Lisa, Katie, Natalie, Michelle, Lora, Eddy, Jessica, Elizabeth, Laura, Brittany, and of course, Tim--y'all got me to the starting line. I mean it. I would have bailed in August otherwise, and I desperately needed to rip off the band-aid.
The race itself?
Looking back, I took the first seven miles too quickly. After a 9:20 first mile, I hit the mid 8:30s and stayed there. So, my coach definitely did a good job instilling marathon pace in me! It just wasn't sustainable.
Part of it was me intentionally NOT being stuck in my watch. I knew it wouldn't be reliable with buildings, and I also didn't want to go out *too* slowly and sell myself short, so I ran by feel, never dreaming that 8:30 (race pace goal on a good day) would feel that comfortable. I didn't hit mid 8s in my BQ race until Mile 10, so once I realized how fast I was going (and that I wanted an overall 8:45-9:00 pace and ideally, a negative split), I reigned it in to the low 9:00s Miles 8-13. I clocked my half around 1:57, at which point I actually felt so good I yelled to Tim that I was barely working and planned on running a negative split. I dropped the hammer then and was down the 8:40s for a few miles, and then at Mile 17, my body gave me a big "hell no." I just told myself to jog to 20 and make it about the last 10K. I was still putting up low 9:00s until Mile 22, when the wheels really came off. I had nothing left to give. I think it was a combination of heat, the course being completely exposed, and just general lack of fitness/training in my legs, plus all my ongoing health issues.
And I didn't care. I stopped and walked through water stops. I gave Tim a big hug around Mile 23 and talked to him for a minute and cried. Not because I was upset. But because I was going to finally make it to that finish line that had been haunting me all those months. The next two miles were a run/walk fest, but everything was sub 11 save that mile I stopped. I ran the last mile in sub 9 and laugh/cried through the finishing chute. I've never been more proud of a finish or a medal since that very first marathon.
Ultimately, I ran a faster pace--even with walking--than I had for any long training runs in the cycle, including ones with speed in them. My nutrition and hydration were spot on, and I had struggled with that all summer. I had enough mental and physical toughness to post a really respectable time on a hard day, when people I know that were in better shape than me were way off their goals.
A ton of supplements (which I started pre-race), self care, and a three month food elimination diet, as recommended by my integrated health professional. No corn, wheat, gluten, tomatoes, white potatoes, peanuts, almonds, or cherries, minimal alcohol, and less than 40 grams of sugar daily, including fruit. It was overwhelming at first to get that news just prior to the race, but I knew there wasn't enough time to manage it or for it to make a substantial difference in my performance, so let myself eat whatever I wanted. I had corn breakfast tacos the morning before the race and pizza for lunch that same day, though I did do a very clean, normal for me dinner (turkey, sweet potato, steamed kale) the night before and a gluten free English muffin with cashew butter the day of to be safe.
One week into the "plan" (I hate the word "diet'), I am starting to feel better. It could just be the weight of the race gone, but my clothes are starting to fit again. I have lost three pounds and an inch off my waist. I don't feel like I am being restrictive (always a danger for me with my history of disordered eating). I don't go comatose after lunch for two hours. My legs feel the peppiest they have in almost two years, when it usually takes me a few weeks to bounce back from marathons. My hives and bloating are gone. It has been really difficult the past two years to be in physical pain along with the emotional distress of never knowing if my jeans (or even running shorts!) would fit (I've gone up almost two pant sizes, in spite of my weight gain being in the 5-7 pound range and fairly "normal" high end for me), feeling incredibly self-conscious about my body (especially as a fitness instructor who's supposed to be all about abs!), constantly being bloated and breaking out in hives, and knowing I was very physically active and eating cleanly most of the time and *still* gaining weight and losing muscle tone and fitness. Having answers has been a big relief. At first I thought, "there's no way I can keep up this elimination thing through a friend's wedding and Thanksgiving and my birthday and Christmas and" excuse after excuse, but planning ahead and finally feeling human again make it worthwhile.
And of course, as my friend Suzanne says "runners have marathon amnesia." Which means I'm definitely running another one. I'm looking to Albany in March, but I don't want to commit unless I know I can be in solid BQ shape (with room to spare), so I may just settle for a fast half.
Ultimately, I feel all the pressure is gone. I feel light and free and happy. Chicago was a gift, a truly magical trip all the way around, and I'm so grateful to those of you who kept pushing me (and put up with me along the way) to make that a reality. I really will never take running for granted again.