I have a love/hate relationship with the Chicago marathon. Once my favorite marathon and now my Nemesis.
My history with Chicago (and other marathons) goes something like this…
1997 – signed up to run Chicago, my first marathon. At that point, I thought anyone who would spend over 2 hours running on a perfectly gorgeous Saturday morning was insane and taking time out of the weekend to run a 20 miler was the stupidest thing I had ever heard of.
However, I’m a little competitive, so when somebody told me that they doubted I would ever run a marathon, I took that as a challenge. So, averaging 25-30 miles a week and one 20 mile run, I thought I was ready. Honestly, I really didn’t have any desire to run a marathon (I just wanted to prove this guy wrong) and physically I really wasn’t feeling 100%. I was so fatigued, hungry, light-headed, and nauseous. I chalked all these symptoms up to training. However, the night before the marathon my sister- in-law convinced me to do a pregnancy test. Whatever!? I don’t think so. But, just to appease her we drove to the store and bought a test. I took it, and let me tell you, it didn’t even take a second for that thing to register a positive sign. So obviously, I must have done it wrong. There was no way I was pregnant. So, we drove to the store again, this time I bought 3 more tests. After the 4th test and the fourth positive sign I started to believe that I just might be pregnant. Since, this was all new to me, the marathon, the pregnancy, etc. etc. I decided I wasn’t going to “chance” anything and I just wouldn’t run the Chicago.
2001 – I now had 2 boys. A 3 year old and 1 year old. I had been running off and on. I actually started to race some 5ks and was doing pretty well. One of my friends told me he was thinking about doing the 1/2 marathon in Chicago and that I should consider it. Well, of course, if he could do it, I definitely could do it. So, I ran my first 1/2 marathon. My friend also told me he was going to run Chicago. I figured since I had run the 1/2, how bad could the marathon be. I had 3 weeks. When most people are starting to taper I was starting to train. Pushing my boys in a double jogging stroller, I ran one 20 miler, and one 15 mile run.
I actually made it to the starting line this time and I was completely oblivious when it came to running the marathon. I specifically remember having some guy pass me and say, “We’re almost done! Only a 5k left!” My thought, “A 5k! That’s all I usually run! That’s still a long way to go!” But, 3 hours and 22 minutes later I finished. I finished and I wanted to cry. I’m not sure if I wanted to cry because I was excited or because I was in so much pain. I sat down against a wall and it occurred to me that that was a very bad idea! It took all I had to pick myself back up again. On the way home, I checked the marathon off my list, and swore I’d never do another one!!
2003 – rolled around and I had a group of runners who were training for the marathon. Why not run it again? I had just had my 3rd baby and running (once again) would help me get back into shape. I was doing a little more racing and my goal for the marathon was to finish under 3 hours. Still not having any idea in regards to pacing a marathon I finished in 3:16. Sub-3 not so much! On the way back to the car I swore I was done with the marathon! No more! I hate the marathon!
(2005 – I had just had my fourth (and last) child when we moved to Memphis. Wanting to get back into shape again, it was easy for the guys I was running with to convince me to run the Memphis marathon. Again, my goal was sub-3. I trained for 6 weeks. My weekly mileage increased from 35-40 miles a week to 50-60 miles. Whoo hoo!
The day of the marathon I knew it was going to be my day…until about mile 18-20 – when I realized I probably shouldn’t have started out so fast and it was coming back to bite me. The last 10k was a death march. 3:06. Finishing 4th overall and 1st Memphis resident and winning cash took some of the pain away.) And this time I swore I WAS going to run another marathon and run under 3 hours.)
2006 – Back to Chicago. I realized after running 3 marathons I needed some sort of training plan to follow. If I was going to run under 3 I needed to train right. So, I got Pete Pftzinger’s book, Advanced Marathoning and followed his 18 week plan of 80 miles a week. I wanted that 2:59:59 and I was going to get it this time! The night before the marathon I talked to a friend who told convinced me to aim for a 2:48, the Olympic trials qualifying mark. The races I had run throughout training indicated that I could probably pull it off. His advice was even if I “blew-up” and didn’t hit 2:48, I’d still run under 3. So I went for it. The first 20-22 miles I zoned out and just ran. I was on pace for a 2:46-2:48. And then w/less than 4 miles to go my body gave out. It just wouldn’t go anymore. My mind was telling my body to keep pushing, but my body just wouldn’t respond. However, I finished in 2:50:51! Sub-3 for sure! I didn’t care about missing the Olympic qualifying mark. I didn’t even really know what that entailed, I was just excited that I ran a 2:50!! Chicago was my best and favorite marathon. (Also in 2006 I won CARA runner of the year – a great end to a great training program!)
2007 – I started working with a coach. I had one year to hit the OT time. I was so close in 2006 it would be ridiculous not to go for it in 2007. So I signed up for Chicago again. And I trained hard, harder than ever. I wanted that 2:47.
After hearing the weather forecasted for race day I wasn’t so sure. (It ended up being a record high and the marathon was eventually stopped because of the heat.) My coach and I decided that I would start the race, but if I ever came to a point where I fell off qualifying pace I’d drop out and I’d save it for another marathon. By mile 6 I knew it was going to be tough. And by mile 11, I knew it wasn’t happening. I walked off the course. That was the first time I quit during a race and settled with a DNF. It was a terrible feeling but I was told it was the right one. I wasn’t running to finish the marathon I was running for a specific time, and because of weather conditions that time wasn’t in my reach. But still, what an awful feeling. After this experience Chicago didn’t seem so great anymore.
(2007 – resumed training after Chicago and went out to CIM. I was probably in the best physical shape of my life but mentally I was burned out. From start to finish the marathon was a struggle – I finished in 2:54. Again, I won CARA runner of the year – but it still didn’t erase the two “bad” marathons I had that year.)
(2008 – 2010 I became a little more clumsy than usually. Suffered 3 different injuries – none of them really running related – but all of them stupidity related. I’ve mentioned before I have a talent of slipping and falling and within these two years some of the falls resulted in broken bones. Not good.)
2010 – Injury free and ready to go, I signed up for Chicago. I still had a bad taste in regards to Chicago after 2007 but that didn’t matter. The Olympic Qualifying window was re-opened and I was ready to go for it. Again, as early as mile 11 I was struggling and by mile 15 I knew there was no way I could hold a 6:20 pace for the rest of the race. At mile 16 I saw my family and walked off the course. Leah, my 9 year old was there, yelling at me, “That’s it!!?? You’re done!? You can’t stop? You have to do this!?” I cried. Feeling that I not only had let myself down, but also my daughter, my 3 other kids, and family, and friends who were following this journey along side me. I couldn’t believe I had just walked off Chicago for a 2nd time. I hate the Chicago Marathon! I will never sign up to run it again!
Whose dream of qualifying for the trials was this anyway. I had so many people telling me I could do it. But, did I really believe that I could do it, did I even want to do it? Was I just attempting this feat because other people told me I should go for it? And why was running becoming somewhat of a chore? Why was I feeling so much pressure from something that used to be a fun re-creational activity and stress-reliever for me?
2011 – I took some time off and really started to think if I wanted to go after the OT time. I decided when registration opened for Chicago I wasn’t going to sign up. It wasn’t until the end of May 2011 that I realized I needed to do this and I wanted to do this. Registration was closed for Chicago and I figured if I called the race director and he let me in I’d train for a 2:46. Sure enough, he let me in. And I decided from that point forward that as long as the door was open I was going for it. This was my year! I PR’d in almost every race distance. I ran my best 1/2 marathon (on tired legs) and my time indicated that I would be able to run a 2:46 w/the proper taper and fresh legs. And then, 2 weeks before Chicago I TORE my calf muscle. Chicago wasn’t going to happen. In fact, even trying to run an OT time at a different marathon was probably not going to happen. 16 weeks of hard training and all I could show for it was a ripped calf muscle. Whatever it is, bad weather, an injury, etc., etc., Chicago’s proven to be bad luck for me!
(2011 – Chicago came and went. I rested my calf. And then attempted to run an OT time at the Monumental Marathon in Nov 2011. My calf became an issue at mile 22 and I dropped. Now 3 DNF’s for the marathon. The marathon in general was becoming my nemesis. I had one more chance to run an OT time at CIM in Dec of 2011. I knew that my calf was going to be an issue – but I decided to lay it all on the line and see what would happen. By mile 3 I began to feel calf pain and by mile 21 I felt as if my calf was going to explode. At mile 22 I fell behind the pack of 20-25 girls (most of them finished with a qualifying time) and I had to stop to stretch out my calf before I did irreparable damage. At that point I knew I wasn’t going to qualify but I knew I was going to finish. Even if it meant crawling to the finish line, I wasn’t going to walk away with another DNF. I was ready to close the book on the marathon!
2:50:03. Not an OQT, but a new PR. Disappointing, yes. Devastating, not really. Why? Because through this experience I remembered that I am more than a runner. Running does NOT define me and the Olympic Trials doesn’t define my running. I’ve accomplished a lot in regards to running. It’s not my full time job , and I’m happy with what I’ve been able to do with it as a “hobby.” The Olympic Trials would have just been icing on the cake!
So that brings me to 2012 – When registration opened up for Chicago I registered. WHY? WHY? I don’t understand, why did I register! Because, I thought that I would face my nemesis once and for all. Sign up and actually run the stupid thing.
However, I had a rough start to the year. It was hard having had such a big goal for the trials, it was something that I had dedicated myself to for almost 2 years and then it was over. Running local races, just didn’t seem as exciting. A little anti-climatic if you ask me. Once again, I found myself wondering if training so hard was worth it and if it was something I wanted to continue to do. And my training didn’t seem to be going right, I was still struggling with my calf muscle and my easy runs were hard, my hard runs were impossible, my long runs seemed to last forever. And then, sure enough, by September things started to fall back into place, my running started to “click” and I started to feel good. However, a little late given the marathon is 10/7. I decided I’d skip Chicago and start a 12 week training program for CIM.
I want to run another good marathon, and I know I’m not ready to do that this Sunday. But, then I got to thinking, maybe I should just run Chicago. Run Chicago… to break my record of Chicago DNF’s. Run Chicago…so I don’t have to say I signed up for it but didn’t run it, AGAIN. It’s not my goal marathon by any means, but I’ve decided to swallow my pride and run it as a long training run in preparation for CIM. I want to run it and finish it. This time around I don’t have a specific time to hit, my goal is to run smart, train smart and finish my long run. I’m not looking to race against the competition or looking to set a new PR. I’m just going to have a good time, to enjoy my scheduled long run with 45,000 other runners. I’m doing no more than running the marathon on Sunday strictly for fun! And, then when I get to CIM in December, that’s when I’ll be focused, put on my game face and be ready to race!