Marathon season is upon us. The crazy 20+ mile runs. The jittery unrest of tapering (what the hell do I do with this new-found free time?!). The fatigue. The ravenous hunger. That feeling of envy and #fomo when other people who are running their fall marathon before you.
In a few weeks I will be running the New York City Marathon for the first time. NYC will be my third marathon and I'm beside myself that I finally get to run it, but what with so many of my close friends running the Chicago Marathon this Sunday, this week I was hardcore wishing I'd signed up for Chicago instead. Chicago was actually my first marathon, back in 2012. Did I train hard enough? Yes. But it was kind of a "train" wreck. Don't get me wrong, it's one of my favorite stories to tell and that's why I'm sharing it with you now. Prepare to laugh.
In 2012 my sister and I trained for the Chicago marathon together; she was in law school at IU when I was still in undergrad. We did all our long runs together and ran together when we could during the week (on top of my training for IU's iconic Little 500 bike race). I knew she was faster than me for longer distances, but our plan was to run together at her pace (she was trying to BQ), for as long as we (I) could. The kink in this marvelous plan was that I ended up in the corral behind her. So, our backup plan was she would go to the back of her corral (it was only after the fact we found out she could have gone down a corral into mine...) and I would get as far front as I could and would run to her.
The Warning Signs
First of all, I had gained 4 pounds in the month leading up to the race. It was still a net loss from the season, but who ever heard of gaining weight training for a marathon?! Apparently gaining weight before a marathon is actually very common. And with the amount of ice cream and Halloween Oreos leading up to the race, I gave carbo-loading a whole new meaning...
I started out WAY too fast, desperately trying to look for my sister or the pace group she was supposedly following. I saw my parents and my sister's boyfriend cheering twice within the first half, still no sign of her. Later, I would find out she used the mile 8 port-o-potty and I had actually passed her by accident.
Naturally at this point I was still going at a blistering pace for me and at the halfway point PR’d in the half marathon by nearly 10 minutes, a PR that I would not run remotely close to for the next 4 years (I finally broke it during the United NYC Half Marathon in March!). But, as marathons go, I still had the second half. Instead of “Jesus Christ let's slow down now," my first thought was “omg I'm going to qualify for Boston!!” And I kept running at that pace for as long as I could. [At left, notice I have a corral D bib and am surrounded by corral C bibs. A result of running WAY TOO FAST.]
The Downward Spiral
Around mile 18 it occurred to me that I had 8 miles left. EIGHT. MILES. I didn't hit the
wall, but I did immediately regret my blazing half marathon PR. At this time I did not have a GPS watch [pictured below], but instead relied on the Nike + app on my phone to track my distance. I put it in my pocket so I couldn't look at the time. Having trained with my sister, I knew it was slightly less accurate than her Garmin, but at most it was maybe a mile off (it might say 20 miles when my sister’s watch said we’d only done 19 miles). What I wasn't expecting was my phone to congratulate me after running a full marathon for the first time. At mile 24. Between dodging in and out of the crowd and the app being less precise, it thought I had run all 26.2. I nearly had a panic attack. I was by a water station when this happened and I'm pretty sure I cried “no I haven't!!” out loud because a man at the water station looked at me and said, "yes, you can do it! You're so close!" So I kept going. Miraculously, I crossed the finish line. I was incandescently happy, but tired, very tired.
There were of course mountains of food immediately after the finish, and that I took even though eating was the last thing I wanted to do. I kept walking, volunteers handed me beer, I kept walking, took more food, and then my parents called me asking where I was, my sister had already finished and was in the finisher's/party area. When asked where I was in my post-marathon, seriously dazed state, I responded “I don't know...I see some bananas?” Remember I'd run with my phone and the goddam Nike app the whole time (which by this point told me I'd run close to 29 miles)? Well my phone was almost out of juice. All I said to my mom was “ok I've gotta go! I'll be at this information station.” There were many such information stations. I never made it to the official “finisher’s party area”. My mom had to run past the course marshals to get into the area where I was. Somehow she found me, sitting with my space blanket, beer, and all the food I had gathered.
I was so sore after the race that I could barely, barely walk. Somehow my sister was totally fine, she was sore, but mobile. I, on the other hand, had to get a ride from an official's golf cart for as many blocks as he would take me before kicking me out of the cart. I could barely walk for a week, and I was afraid to ride my bike for fear that my legs would lock up and I would be hit by a car.
1. Pay extra attention to nutrition during tapering.
2. It's a marathon, not a sprint, as the saying goes. But also it's NOT a half-marathon.
3. Designate a meeting place for you friends and family after the race, and make sure you know how long it's going to take you to get there. Also make sure that YOU get there.
Good luck to all our friends running Chicago this weekend!!