Thursday, May 15, 2014

Chicagoland Spring Marathon Recap

Spoiler # 2 : I have plenty of time to get my many four readers caught up on the past year of running and racing, before any new adventures will need to be re-capped.
A lot of the races I ran, during my Blogging Hiatus, were new to me, so I'd love to share my experiences. I also tried some new training, recovery and pacing experiences and would feel remiss in not sharing those, as well. So, if you've got some time, over the next few weeks, I've got some stories.
After I ran a Boston Qualifying Marathon in February, the horrific events unfolded at said marathon, in April 2013. One of the resulting feelings that surfaced was a pressing need to be at the 2014 start line of the Boston Marathon. I feared my qualifying time wouldn't be fast enough, with the huge influx of runners vying for the same experience.
I bit the bullet and registered for a May race, with the intent of running closer to the 3:35 range, rather than the 3:38:xx I qualified with. After a ton of research, I'd settled on The Chicagoland Spring Marathon in Schaumburg, IL.
May in Florida is already sticky and hot (like, 90 degrees, hot). May in Schaumburg is typically still "Spring-like" and much, much cooler. (For reference, this year's race day has a predicted high temperature of 60 degrees.)
 The course was flat, the number of participants was small and I'd even be able to visit with extended family. (Hi, Denny and Jill!! ) I don't like to splurge for race travel, but the need was overwhelming.
I needta run another one!!
I'd sufficiently recovered from the February race, so I just threw together a hasty few weeks of marathon "refresher" training. To date, they were some of my strongest workouts, ever. The weather was getting downright miserable, but my body was responding unbelievably well to the mileage and speed work. So much so, that I started re-thinking my sub 3:35 goal, and leaned more towards trying to knock out a sub 3:30.
Plus, (foreshadowing) the Illinois weather was going to be almost ideal for a marathon. While huffing and puffing through training in 80-85 degree morning runs, I was reassuring myself with the visions of the 60 degree race in Chicagoland.
My strong, speedy dad even jumped on board. He decided to fly up there with me and run the half marathon. What could possibly go wrong with this stellar Training, FamilyFun, Wonderful Weather Trifecta?!
speedy Dad
We didn't need too much extra time in the fair city of Schaumburg, so we flew out the day before the race. I normally pull the masses back into a ratty ponytail, throw on something pajama-like and fly in style. 
Sidenote: Have I reminded you, lately, about how lucky I am to have the husband I do?
A quick, pre-dawn glance in the mirror revealed that my go-to Fashionable Flier Getup might need a bit of tweaking :

"Good morning, Dad. Um. I'm going need a couple extra minutes"
That rush styling job resulted in a nasty flat iron burn on my tiny ear. Probably added at least 4 minutes to my finishing time, the next day. Or not.
Moving on.
Sleek hair, weeping, open wound on my ear, giddy excitement and tall, tight socks. The lucky traveling companion was my dad, not my husband, this trip. Aim to please : Bullseye!
because wearing long pants to cover the socks would be too easy
Lots of quality time spent together, waiting for our rental car, followed by a quick trip to the hotel. Dropped off our stuff and headed to pick up our race packets.
After following some really confusing verbal directions, along with chalk arrows, we ended up in an empty storefront. Well, of course your race number should be obtained by waiting in an oddly-split line in the middle of a creepy, abandoned building! Just like every other expo...
The rest of our goodies were being held at Dick Pond Athletic store...just past more weird chalk arrows and sidewalk drawings. I have to assume this wasn't their initial Packet Pickup plan. If so, the organizers may want to go back to the drawing board for a short while.

We grabbed our goody bags and some race day fuel.  I'm a bit hazy on the details. I know there was a cool water bottle. I still have mine. Other than that, I'm pretty sure there were just some flyers for local races and businesses.
This fella was next door to the store. He didn't sponsor, though. That extra "N" must've put him over his advertising budget.
We also received one of my all-time favorite race shirts. Neon green, long-sleeved, half-zip shirts, to be exact. Pay no attention to my reflection in the photo above. Why in the world would I be wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt? May, in this area of Illinois, is just plain chilly. Surely the Race Directors, in their infinite wisdom, wouldn't have handed out toasty, warm attire if it were going to be 80+ degrees on race day!
If you're not soaking up what I'm spilling at this point, I'll start to spell it out. It was not cool. It was H-O-...

After a bit of sightseeing (ps: sightseeing, for runners, is driving and stalking the race course. looking for elevation changes, amount of shade, etc), we went to Whole Foods. It was my first time in the fabled store, and neither one of us had ever dined there. With my eating habits, it was as dreamy as I'd imagined it to be. I loaded up any goodies I could bring home to the boys without melting or spoiling in my suitcase. Luckily they're pretty easy to please. For real.
"Mom texted pics of traffic lights AND brought us home Clif Bars?! Score!!"
We indulged in Veggie, Carbie goodness from the various DIY bars, at Whole Foods. As awesome as it is, I'm really glad there isn't a store within an hour of my house. I would spend way too many of our dollars there.
I don't know all the Blogging Rules. I remembered the one about If You Eat at Whole Foods, You Must Have Photo Proof
We didn't do any shakeout runs or really all the much extra walking. It was just a relaxing, stress-free day of easy travel and laughs. I couldn't have asked for better, prior to a marathon far away from home. Of course we called home and got caught up on everyone's days.
The more we talked on the phone, too, the less we could check our weather apps. The forecast was so, so not good. I laid out my Marathon Outfit, agonized over fueling and hydration and tried not to panic.
The Emergency Heat Warning email from the Race Directors threw a wrench in the whole "Not Panicking' plan. "Runners who have not trained in extremely warm climates should consider not running in the morning" " Those who have sufficiently trained need to adjust their goals, drastically" And the like.
I made the brilliant decision to NOT adjust my goals and just go ahead and pretend it was not too hot to run really fast for 26.2 miles. Remember, I had the aforementioned trifecta on my side. I flew all the way to another state for this race and it was going to be perfect, darnit!
The start area was right across the street from our hotel, so we didn't even have to wake up at an unpleasant hour. I had my standard, 3 hours prior plain bagel. I went back to sleep, and got back up a while later for coffee, water, and more Not Panicking. My dad and I gathered up our gels and Not Panicked our way all the way out of the hotel, through the humid, morning fog and into the starting area.
We had a few minutes to relax before finding a comfortable spot in the one and only corral. Even with the two distances, there were still less than 1,000 runners. My plan was to run the first half of the race in about 1:45. I wanted even splits, or slightly negative on the second half, if possible.
My fueling plan had worked so well for my last Marathon, I decided to follow it, again. February marathon : 30 degrees. May marathon: 80 degrees. See a problem with my logic, yet, 'cause I didn't. (face, meet palm!)
"My mom's #1 when it comes to race execution!"
I was feeling depleted by mile 4. (four!) The pace felt really easy but I was hungry and thirsty. I was carrying my small handheld bottle and ended up refilling it. A lot. I also took my first gel a bit earlier than I'd planned to, but it was too little, too late. (more on that, later)
We split off from the halfers at mile 8. My dad and I said something encouraging to one another before following our new paths.
Him: "Don't die of heat stroke. Your mother will be furious with me!"
Me: "You, either. My name's not on the rental car agreement!"
Or something along those lines.
By mile 9, I'd caught up to the 3:30 Pace Leader, as per my plan. He was running alone, already. When he turned and saw me close by, he looked right through me, and started encouraging other stragglers to catch up to him. I found it odd that he chose to ignore, rather than pep-talk me, but I wasn't there to make friends, anyway. I silently plodded along behind him, until he ducked into a park bathroom and a different pacer appeared. This new pacer had a handful of followers and was way more chatty than the last guy. However, he was not without his issues.
"Hey guys. We're going to bank some time on this shady part of the trail, 'cause the rest of it's going to be pretty rough."
In theory, that makes good sense. Pacing a group who has likely not trained themselves to run ~8 minute miles for 10 miles of a marathon, then suddenly drop the pace to 7:10 for the next few miles...notsomuch.
I took that opportunity to pretend like I was all alone on the trail, turn on my ipod, and focus on my even splits. That's the way I like to run, anyway.
The course starts on a highway, weaves in and out of Nature Preserve trails (paved. open to the public) for the majority of the race, and then ends up back on that same, burning hot highway. There were very little opportunities for spectating, so it was pretty quiet in between waters stops. If you're looking for a flat, scenic course, this is a good option. If you're opposed to dodging cyclists, demoralizing out & backs and sharp turns around a cone in the middle of a median, you may want to choose a different marathon. Course map
(I sound bitter. Under better conditions I might've really liked it. In fact, now that some time has passed, my dad and I have even tossed around the idea of taking another shot at it.)
I crossed the half-marathon (13.1 miles) mat at 1:45:08 and promptly came to a dead stop. What?! I can't recall doing that in a race before this one, but it happened and everything quickly unraveled. The first half hadn't felt awful, but it was getting HOT and I (later figured out I) totally messed up my fueling. I forced my legs to start shuffling, again, but was completely panic-stricken. The thought of chasing a PR, in the heat, completely alone, seemed laughable.
My thoughts of dropping out were overwhelming. It was really only logistics that stopped my from doing so, initially. Remember, we were way out on Nature Trails. How would I even get back to the start? By them time I reached an aid station, I still wanted to quit, but had found my Motivation to Shuffle Through It from other sources.
"You quit?! I can't even look at you, right now, Mama"
1. My husband was home, in another state, caring for our home and family so that I could run this stupid marathon. I refused to take that for granted by announcing that I hadn't even finished the race.
2. I had no cell phone, thus no way to reach my dad.
3. The money I'd dropped on this "redemption race?!" No way was I wasting it, entirely!
4. We had plans to meet up with our extended family for dinner. How embarrassed would I be to have their first experience with Jennifer As a Marathoner be : The Story of How I Didn't Earn a Medal.
I won't drag you through the play-by-play for the rest of it. Just know that I wasn't "brave" or "strong" for finishing a marathon when it was 80+ degrees and even some pacers were being carried off the course on stretchers. I was simply cheap and stubborn.
 The finish line was gorgeous. Having my dad waiting for me (and seeing the medal HE earned!!) was even better. The sprinkler system and free massages erased my tears. (yes. actual tears were shed over this race)
I had no appetite, but we wandered around the after-party, hoping something might look palatable. I think I choked down 1/2 banana and a few bites of a granola bar. I knew my finishing time (3:51ish), but we hung around the results board out of curiosity, anyway. I ended up in the top 50, overall, and somehow I managed to place 3rd in my age group.
That's a toughie to comment on. I sound like a jerk when I say "it's not cool, 'cause it was a crappy overall time". However, that's kind of the way it goes. Me being faster than everyone but 2 people, in my age group, is relative. It's almost like winning a race when there's only one participant. All of that having been said, I will always take pride in finishing a race AND collecting the spoils.
We asked around and learned that there wasn't an actual awards ceremony. You just had to show your bib to the high school volunteers and they'd hand over your "award".
Not only did I traipse around the finish area, soaking wet and barefoot, (see video at end for proof) I also proceeded to dive, headfirst, into a trash bin to retrieve the sweaty bib I'd tossed. Shame? What the heck is that?
The engraving appears illegible in the photo. I think they read: "Appallingly ugly Finisher's Medal" and "Equally Hideous Marathon Winner Medal"
My dad and I headed back to the room for some rest and much-needed (me, especially) cleaning up. After we looked respectable, again, we met up with his brother and family. They were awesome and treated us to dinner, so I introduced my cousins to Frozen Yogurt for dessert.
Yeah. They'd never been to a Frozen Yogurt shop. I will suck that up and still claim them as family, though.
"So, this cold stuff in the bowls. What are we supposed to do with it, again?"
Kidding, guys. I love you!
It was a rough day.
I did not even run a Boston Qualifying time, much less better my previous one.
I learned from the experience and treasured every. single. moment. Other than the "soul crushing heat" (my dad's spot-on description)
Thank you for skimming reading this mini-novel. I've got more! Lots more! Most of them will be shorter, though. Here's a teaser : I flew back to Illinois, for another race, a few months later.
And now....The Video. You may have to watch it more than once to fully appreciate all that takes place in the few seconds that are captured. Please note the following :
-My weird giddiness over that cold sprinkler
-My bare feet. In a parking lot.
-The struggles the other finishers are clearly dealing with, due to the heat.
-The pacer being assisted over to the cold sprinklers, by EMS personnel.
-Me moving 1/2 inch to allow someone else to share my precious water



Tuesday, May 6, 2014


I'm not the type to frantically flip to the back of the book to read the last page, before conquering the rest of the story. I do know and love "this type", but it's not my typical move.

It's been a while since we've all chatted, though, so I'll pretend we're all strangers. With that in mind, for all I know, you guys like fast-forwarding to the end of the story.

So, I guess the current page would read a bit something like this :

The time for brave-faced jokes and stiff-upper-lipping was over. I finally succumbed. The powerful music that fueled so many months, days, hours...agonizing seconds of training overcame me. I let it wash over me as I crumbled.
Physically, was inevitable.
Those tears of regret and pain that had been threatening for weeks didn't feel therapeutic or peaceful. They burned. They broke me even further. They seemed to be endless.