My Marathon Year

When you’ve been running long enough, or have run enough races, people start asking when you’re going to do a marathon. For me, the questions started after I ran my second half, in the fall of 2011. Riding high on the euphoria of finishing Detroit, I decided I wanted to run a marathon.

13.1! Space Blanket! Medal!
Detroit half marathon finisher, October 2011

So I registered for Chicago in 2012. And then I thought about it, and then I thought better of it. I sold my bib, and then I broke my arm, so running the marathon became a moot point – though I did end up running a portion of the marathon with a dear friend as she finished her second. The experience of running her through the hardest 8 miles of the race was so powerful – and the rush of the finish so intoxicating – that I decided (again) that I wanted to run a marathon.

And then I thought about it again, and decided it wasn’t for me again. And so it went for another year, where I ran seven half marathons in four cities and two states. I joined an informal running group. I started doing speedwork. I got more serious about my diet. I got fast(er). And then the marathon bug bit again, and I started telling people: this is my marathon year.

And literally the next day, I found out I was pregnant. I watched the 2014 Chicago marathon from my chair, nursing my two week old baby as the elite runners passed through our neighborhood. Not my marathon year – not that kind of marathon, anyway.

And then 2015 wasn’t my year either. The baby continued to breastfeed enthusiastically and sleep erratically, both of which wreaked havoc on my well-being. I agreed to wait a year, and then made sure I was out of town on marathon day.

So in March of this year, I entered the Chicago marathon lottery, and in April, I got in. A week after I received my acceptance, I ran one of the most difficult races I’ve completed and wondered what in the world I’d gotten myself into.

Post-race face
Portrait of the artist as a water-logged half marathoner, April 2016

And so the summer passed with nearly every lunch hour spent on increasingly sweaty runs, and with nearly every weekend seeing me nudging my “longest run ever” record a little bit further. The last five miles of my 14 miler featured thunder and lightning, a torrential downpour, and standing water on the trail. It was so humid for my 15 miler that by mile 11, my shoes and socks were squishing with every step. My 16 miler was a dream. My 17 miler was painful at every turn. My 20 miler was spontaneously pushed to a Friday morning and culminated in a freak storm.

I ran before dawn. I ran most of the Lakefront Path, and literally all around Antwerp. I listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts. I didn’t do as much strength or cross training as I should have. I was constantly hungry. I got to a point where I was just so sick of running that I couldn’t wait for it to be done.

View from mile 3/17 at 6am.
Sunrise at Navy Pier

All of this prepared me for the marathon itself – and none of it prepared me for the marathon itself.

I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming feelings that I experienced in the week leading up to the race. Everything felt incredibly emotional especially – my last long run, walking into the race expo, and picking up my bib.

I'm not crying; you're crying.
Race expo

I felt stressed and anxious when people asked me how I was expecting to do, or what time I expected to be by a certain location – as if I was going to let them down if I wasn’t there on time. I experienced a lot of impostor syndrome – I’m not a marathoner, I’m not an athlete. I felt the need to downplay what I was about to do, and wished I hadn’t told as many people – even as I couldn’t stop talking about it.

I worried about food all week – what should I eat? What shouldn’t I eat? What should I eat the day of? What is going to work with my stomach? And then an infected insect bite sent me to the emergency room three days out, and massive doses of antibiotics gave me all new worries.

I spent the night before the race at my parents’ hotel, where my mom’s mention of the race when making her reservation resulted in a surprise package waiting for me in the room.

Happy marathon eve to me.
Happy marathon eve to me

The morning of the race was everything I expected it to be. I jogged to the course, the streets filling up around me with marathoners and their loved ones. I watched the sun rise over Buckingham Fountain as I stretched. I ran into members of my running group – all first time marathoners – with enough time to snap a photo before we had to head to our corrals.

Team Noon Recess All Stars is ready to go!
Team Noon Recess All Stars

And then it was go time.

Here we go!
This view!

I want to remember how strong and steady I felt crossing the starting line. I want to remember those first miles, the sidewalks crowded with spectators, excitedly anticipating seeing my parents between miles 3 and 4. I want to remember running through Lincoln Park, a river of people rushing northward. I want to remember turning onto Addison at the northernmost part of the course, scanning the crowd for the previous night’s Lyft driver, whose wife had run the race before and who said he’d keep an eye out for me at that turn.

I want to remember the blinding sunlight through Boystown, and then the wave of emotions as I passed Neo, and then the beautiful scenery on Sedgwick as we headed back south. I want to remember checking my splits, mile after mile, and finding myself exactly on target mile after mile. I want to remember crossing the river back into downtown and texting the friends and family who were waiting for me to the west.

I want to remember the halfway point, my feet sticking to the pavement from all of the energy chews, my heart full of pride at what I’d already accomplished. I want to remember Annette and her family in the West Loop, her running out to join me for a few blocks. I want to remember accepting red licorice from someone in the crowd. I want to remember jumping up and down as I saw Karen at the western most point of the course.

Mile 15
Mile 15, photograph by Karen

I want to remember that it started getting hard after that, and that by the time I saw Alisa on Taylor Street, I was starting to struggle. I want to remember turning south to Pilsen, and wondering if I was going to finish, but holding it together because I knew I’d see my family soon. I want to remember digging into my reserve so that they would see me smiling. I want to remember the hurried hugs and kisses – and the toddler so overwhelmed by everything that he turned away.

And then I want to remember turning the corner at mile 20 and everything falling apart. I want to remember the last 10K taking everything I had – and taking it all out of me. I want to remember crying as I limped down Halsted, pulling it together to run through Chinatown, then falling apart again. I want to remember how sweet that grape popsicle tasted in mile 24. I want to remember counting down the blocks until I saw Michelle who lifted my spirits by running the last few blocks of Michigan along with me.

And then I want to remember the end, pulling out all stops to get up Roosevelt, summoning some secret reserve of energy to call out THIS IS IT as I rounded the corner into Grant Park and saw the finish line.

I ran a fucking marathon
I ran an effing marathon.

And then after – the shuffle through the finisher’s area, getting my medal and my space blanket and my banana. Collapsing on the ground for an ugly cry before I could return any of the texts or emails or social media love that had been blowing up my phone for hours. Finding my way out and meeting Michelle somewhere on Michigan and her getting me home. Painfully climbing the two flights of stairs to my proud family. Sitting on the floor to stretch without any certainty I could get back up. Devouring a caramel apple cupcake despite having no interest in food whatsoever. A celebratory meal with family and dear friends. Walking slowly around the Arboretum the next day rather than sitting at my desk and cramping up. Trying to make sense of the surprising pains and emotions that emerged in the days that followed.

So, I ran a marathon. Maybe someday I’ll run another one. How do I feel about it? I feel everything about it.

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2014 Chicago Bucket List, part 2

I’m so far behind in blogging about my resolutions and other adventures from this year. We’re halfway into December and I have drafts from outings from February. So how about rolling up this very fun resolution into a miniseries?

The second installation in my miniseries about my 2014 Chicago bucket list adventures!

Chicago skyline
View from the Adler

Adler Planetarium: May’s Adler After Dark event was cosponsored by the Oriental Institute – a perfect excuse for us both to make our first visit! We learned about medical astrology and inverse moons and took funny photos of our bellies.

Hot Doug's
Doing Hot Doug’s right

Hot Doug’s: Chicago’s premiere encased meat emporium had been on my to-do list for years prior to the announcement that the owner planned to close up shop in October. My first thought was “I can go on my maternity leave!”. Fortunately, an earlier opportunity presented itself: since I was already missing half a day of work for an ultrasound, we decided to make a day of it and brave the Hot Doug’s line. It felt pretty ridiculous, but was worth it for extremely delicious sausages and fries.

Chicago Bucket List: Cubs game with Nicolas
View from Wrigley

#ChicagoBucketList: Cubs game with N, even though he's cheering for the Mets...
View at Wrigley

Cubs game with Nicolas: Despite living in Lakeview for 6ish years, Nicolas had never been to Wrigley Field or to a Cubs game – in fact, the Sox game in April was his first baseball game, period! We kept talking about how these all-American activities needed to be added to his citizenship dossier. Hot dogs, beer, and baseball on a perfect summer night were an excellent addition.

Drinks at a shitty Wrigleyville bar: After the baseball game, we knocked out a second bucket list item by walking down Clark to grab drinks and food at a random bar before Neo prom. We thankfully skipped the douchiest bars in Chicago.

Dim sum
Dim sum

Dim sum in Chinatown: The bucket list originally called for hot pot, but dim sum was on my mental list. We tried Moon Palace on the recommendation of another Chinatown diner who, after seeing us order pork buns at another restaurant, said we had to try the (off-menu?) steamed spinach buns at Moon Palace. They did not disappoint.

We stopped into Vosges yesterday and left with free truffles.
Truffles from Vosges

Vosges with Nicolas: I’ve been a fan of Vosges chocolate for years, and had been to the Lincoln Park shopfront a few times, but never with Nicolas. We stopped in while walking around Lincoln Park one afternoon and left with free truffles! My enormously pregnant belly probably helped.

Vegan Korean food with Karen! 36/#100daystobaby
Vegan Korean with Karen

Vegan Korean at Dragon Lady Lounge with Karen: Karen and I talked about checking out the monthly Korean buffet at Dragon Lady Lounge for two years before we had the right opportunity – the next-to-last buffet they would offer! We ate all the things, and all of them were delicious.

Untitled
Sailing on Lake Michigan

Untitled
Chicago skyline, golden hour

Sailing on Lake Michigan: We bought a deal for a two hour sailing adventure at the beginning of the summer, and cashed it in as one of our last pre-baby adventures on a lovely September night. We were supposed to share our outing with at least two other people, but they didn’t show up, so we had the boat to ourselves. We were treated to an exceptional sunset as we turned back to the city. It was perfect.

Pie at Hoosier Mama Pie Company: We made a strategic error in not eating before Nicolas’s naturalization ceremony, expecting to be in and out in an hour or so. Instead, it took three hours, and we emerged as a famished family of American citizens. We headed straight to Hoosier Mama and had pie for lunch. What’s more American than apple pie, after all?