Marathon Reflections

at the swirlgear booth at the expo

As I was thinking about what I would say about the 2013 marathon, a couple of versions came to mind. The first one told all of the positive and none of my true feelings. That was a version contemplated to keep those who would want to say that my feelings aren’t legitimate away. With an all positive version, they’d have nothing to try to make me not feel.

Then there is the completely honest version where I express how I feel. The version that would lend many people to say I should feel a particular way because. A version where they would try to drown out how I feel and make it seem illegitimate.

Anyway, I’ve decided to go with the latter version because being honest is far better than trying to not be real in life. And I don’t care that people can’t handle how someone really feels about this. So here is my tale of running the 2013 edition of the Chicago Marathon.

Overall, I can say that my training was great. I’ve never been in better shape in my life. Last month my 20-mile run was so good, I felt like I could easily do another 10k the same day. Taper was mentally taxing, but I made it through unscathed. Well, except for a brief cold that settled in race week. Fortunately it was mostly gone by race day so I wasn’t going to worry about being able to breathe.

Somehow, I did manage to grab some sleep Saturday night. Normally the night before a really big race, I won’t sleep much so I make sure to get a good night’s rest two nights out from the race. This is especially true if i have traveled for the race. Race morning, I actually managed to get myself together pretty quickly. As I headed to the Hilton on Michigan Avenue to use my training group’s gear check, I was all set with my music playlist. I needed to clear my head and have some tunes before the race since I was going to be racing without the aid of music.

Chuck, my pace group leader from my half marathon training and me. Not sure what I'm looking at, but oh well

Chuck, my pace group leader from my half marathon training and me. Not sure what I’m looking at, but oh well

Before the race, I was fortunate to meet up with a friend of mine who was also running her first Chicago Marathon. I wasn’t necessarily doing the race for the first time. It was actually my third attempt at the race, but this time i was going to finish no matter what. It was so exciting to meet Karen and wish her luck since we have been in this training (virtually) together with the ultimate goal of getting a Boston Qualifying time. She did get it by the way and beat the necessary time by a lot!

Right before the race started for those of us in the second wave, I ended up talking to a few people around me. Two girls were from Ottawa, Canada and the other couple I am not sure where they were from, but they did say they think Venice is a far more beautiful town than Chicago is. That caused a little good-natured ribbing, but it was totally fine.

Once the race started, I really had to make a concerted effort to not go out too fast. I usually end up running races with incredibly fast first few miles and then end up doing positive splits for my race. The goal with the marathon – aside from finishing – was to do negative splits if I couldn’t keep even splits. I actually was doing pretty well with being slower than I normally would be. However that was just about the only positive early on in the race.

As I was approaching the 10-mile mark, I realized I was a bit slower than I wanted to be, but then I remembered that I was still kind of in warm up mode. That is if you divide the race into a 10-10-10 of 10 mile warm up, 10 miles racing and then 10K all out to finish. Then approaching the halfway point, I started to feel cramping in my calfs. Every time I would try to pick up my pace, I felt a twinge so I slowed back because I didn’t want to be hobbled. I also knew that I was probably going to be maybe 20 minutes slower than my anticipated goal time if I kept at this pace.

sporting my Swirlgear on race day! Fortunately, you don't really see the pink shoes which I DESPISE

sporting my Swirlgear on race day! Fortunately, you don’t really see the pink shoes which I DESPISE

Sadly, the cramping just got worse as I went on. As I was coming up on the Pilsen neighborhood, I realized I wasn’t going to finish the race in time to get back to my gear check so I had to text my friend to get my stuff for me. Normally, it wouldn’t have been a big deal to not have my stuff after the race, but my keys to my apartment, ID, money and transit card were in the gear check bag so I had to get it. I usually carry those things on me when running, but there was no need to since I was using gear check.

In any event, after passing through Pilsen and coming up on Chinatown, I was really getting annoyed with my body or more importantly my legs. I had already stopped a few times to try to massage out the cramps. They had migrated from my calfs up to my quads as well. I tried to keep running, but as before, I would get a twinge / cramp and would have to walk it out to make the muscles stop spazzing.

I wish I could say that this solved the problem but it didn’t. It only got worse. At one point I did some massaging and then started to move on and it seemed that the massaging I did somehow made things worse. Every step was an excruciating muscle spasm. Fortunately I was coming up on Aid Station 17 which was just past mile 22 on the course. I walked over to the station workers and asked them what they could give me to help the cramps so I could finish the race. I mean, I was FOUR POINT TWO MILES FROM THE END. I was NOT going to give up.

One lady suggested Tylenol and I had to clarify it was not “those” kind of cramps but leg muscle cramps. So, off I went to lay on one of their cots to get some massage done on my legs. And have some Gatorade as well. The Gatorade (if you’re unaware) had plenty of electrolytes in it which would hopefully calm the muscle spasms as well. Before you ask, I was taking in electrolytes before, but I might not have taken in enough as I was going along.

Anyway, I lost a nice half an hour at Aid Station 17. However, I am really grateful to Meredith who was working on my legs. It seemed every time she would get one kink worked out, another would pop up. While she was working on me, a guy came by and asked if I was going to need a bus. And very angrily, I said no way.

Not said in an angry way, but in my head (see what I did there) I was feeling quite bitchy and determined. I was too close to the end. I was going to finish. I had trained all year and am in the best shape I have ever been.

Well, once I was ready to go, I was on my way with a salt tablet and more Gatorade. I suddenly got massively irritated. I might have even yelled a few expletives as I was on my way. Why? Because the sag wagon parade was going by.

My biggest fear in races is that I’m so slow that the end of the race crew is creeping by and I will not be counted as an official finisher because I finished after the sag wagon parade. It was still within striking distance and I was determined to catch up and surpass the clock.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do so. A couple of times I came close enough that I thought if I could just run, I’d get ahead of that stupid sag wagon parade lead vehicle. Especially right around mile 25, but it was not meant to be on Sunday.

Erin knows me well

Erin knows me well. Henry Cavill and Spotted Cow Beer? YES PLEASE

However, to make up for it, my good friend Erin was still out on the course cheering me on and she had the best sign waiting for me. Most people (or at least those who pay any attention to anything I do) know that I really dig Henry Cavill and Spotted Cow beer is quite tasty. The last time I had one was in May of this year when I ran the Green Bay Half Marathon. I even saved one so I could enjoy it post marathon since I was off the booze while training. She said several runners were jealous and she told them they could have the Spotted Cow, but that Henry was mine.

But, the good news is I FINISHED THE MARATHON! Despite the horrible cramping, I pushed my way through. I was going to get that medal even if I had to crawl across the finish line. Fortunately, I was able to run the last 200 meters. Not a lot, but it had to do given all the cramps that I was experiencing.

I was getting this no matter what

I was getting this no matter what

Crossing the line felt really good because after two times prior trying to finish the marathon, I could finally say I did finish. The last two times, I had to bail due to injuries. I could have pushed on, but the choice was finish and not run again or take a DNF (did not finish) and live to run another day. Each time I chose to do the latter and it hurt. This time, I was just too close to do it again.

My time for the race was by my standards beyond abysmal. I have high expectations for myself so losing so much time really bothers me. I was expecting that if I had a bad day, I would finish in just over five hours.

Instead, I had a horrific race and ended up finishing just under seven hours. After the race I was having an internal debate with myself of maybe the marathon distance isn’t for me and I’m not doing this again to OF COURSE I have to do this again because a 6:59:40 is unacceptable in my world when I know I can run so much faster.

When I looked at my splits, I was rather appalled at seeing them. How on earth could it take the time I normally do a slow 10K to go just five kilometers? Why did my body have to fail me on the biggest race day of 2013 for me? Why did I have to have cramping problems now?

I’ve run at least a dozen races in 2013 and had zero issues previously. Even on my 20-mile run, I felt like I could have run another 10K that day so why did the one day it really mattered to me did I have to have issues.

As I think back on things, I wonder if maybe I just didn’t drink enough. I know I was properly hydrated before and I am a big fan of drinking my water with Nuun tablets to make sure I have extra electrolytes since I know I’m a salty sweater. Not to mention, I was having my fill of salty foods as well.

I was trying to only drink to thirst, but maybe I needed to just take in Gatorade at every aid station. I skipped a few of them early on because I wasn’t thirsty and didn’t want to cause other issues due to being over hydrated.

My friend Karen who got a BQ on her first marathon attempt. She rocks!

My friend Karen who got a BQ on her first marathon attempt. She rocks!

Overall, I guess my marathon experience was just ok. I got the finisher’s medal and I finished the race. Yet, the finish wasn’t the one I wanted. I was also disappointed that the charity that I was running for I still hadn’t met my fundraising goal by race day. I’d been at it for months and yet, it seemed people just didn’t want to help me send a child who is sick with cancer to summer camp.

Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of supporters before the race who did donate and I am so grateful for them, but I really wanted to reach the fundraising goal before the race. But as things tend to be, yesterday someone who had already donated made another donation so that I met my fundraising goal. I’m not gonna lie, I just about broke down in tears thanks to Lynn’s generosity while I was at work yesterday. If you still want to and can make a donation, there is still time to go do that 🙂 There are plenty of kids who could benefit.

I do have a couple of 10Ks left to do this year. One this coming Sunday, which many may think is crazy to do a week after the marathon. However, I’m pretty sure I will be fine. As it stands, I almost feel guilty about how good my legs felt after I was able to shower post race and the following day after the marathon.

Most people have problems navigating stairs after running the marathon. Me? Not at all. In fact, I would hazard that most people would not believe I ran 26.2 miles a few days ago given how well I am moving around. I guess I just have freakishly strong legs that recover super fast after a run. Too bad they weren’t working so well during the race.

There was one other thing that happened during the race that annoyed me and happens to me a lot when I run. For some reason, I seem to attract overly friendly people who feel the need to touch me. I’m not exactly a touchy-feely type of person and if I don’t know you, the last thing I want is you hugging me or touching me.

Well, in the latter part of the race, this woman who was spectating though it would be nice to come up and encourage me to keep going and started to reach to give me a pat on the back. As she was moving in to touch me, I yelled at her DON’T and she still did anyway.

Normally, I would have done my usual speed up in pace to get away from her, but I’d just experienced a muscle spasm so I couldn’t get away from her. As she finally got the hint to not touch me (even though she did) she then was whining to her friend about how I didn’t want her touching me.

Frankly, what possesses people to do that is beyond me. That is one drawback of not listening to music during a race, but I’ve had it happen even when I have headphones on. For future reference, if you are a touchy-feely person and you don’t know me (and in some cases even if you do) and you see me in a race, DO NOT COME UP TO HUG ME, TOUCH ME, ETC TO ENCOURAGE ME TO KEEP GOING.

Anyway, while I still haven’t achieved my goal of getting a Boston Qualifying time, next year I may not be doing a marathon. I am planning to focus on 5Ks and 10Ks to get faster so that when I do the marathon again (despite my thinking it is not for me, that just under seven hours cannot stand as my PR) I can be much closer to what is an acceptable time in my head.

And that, is my tale of the 2013 Chicago Marathon. If you managed to stick around to this point in reading, CONGRATULATIONS. Sorry it was so long, but I had a lot of thoughts about the day to share 🙂 Oh and I’m pretty sure I’ll be back to do another marathon in the future. Who knows, maybe even in 2014.


16 thoughts on “Marathon Reflections

  1. Congratulations on finishing Cheryl!!! It’s a tough, tough, tough thing when the race doesn’t go as expected. Pat yourself on the back for having the strength, fortitude and mental will to keep going when everything in your body and your self talk (I totally get the negative self-talk!) and to keep taking each step forward. I find that’s where this endurance stuff gets addicting, as you never 100% have the race (at least in my experience) that you wanted and KNOW you are capable of…so that keeps you going back to keep training. The best thing is that you take this and learn from it for the next race!! Keep at it!!! Congrats again!

  2. There are only a small percentage of people in this world who finish a marathon. You are one of them. I know you are disappointed in how you did and how your body dealt with it but don’t be so hard on yourself. Learn from it and take a minute to celebrate your accomplishment. I ran it in 2007–the hottest marathon in history where police physically restrained me from continuing to run. I was so disappointed in my time but have a medal hanging in my basement and memories that time has softened. I say good for you and congratulations.

  3. Cheryl, I know you’re bummed with your performance and I’m not going to tell you that you’re being too hard on yourself because you’ll just roll your eyes. 🙂 I think it’s awesome that you pushed through — the strength of spirit is 1,000 times stronger than your strong legs! NO GUILT! You did something that 99% of the world can’t say they did: used their own body to travel 26.2 miles in one day. Awesome.

    You can count on me to help you keep those legs strong for next year! Get it, girl!!

  4. Congratulations Cheryl!!!! Way to go!!! Wish we could have been there to personally cheer you on- such an inspiration!!!
    love you!

  5. You did something I will most likely never have the physical or mental will power to do – a marathon is an amazing accomplishment! I’m so happy you reached your goal for fundraising – Lynn sounds like an amazing friend! Congrats Cheryl!

    • i’m never getting out of this! every time i think, oh i’ll take a break, it is people like you who pull me back in. i’m pretty sure i’ll be running with you in the spring to train for a half though i may not actually run a half 🙂

      you’re the best group leader ever!

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