Nikki and I registered for the Chicago Marathon in February and began officially training for it in mid-June, and now, suddenly and as though no time had passed at all, it was October and the race was upon us. Were we ready? Well, I guess we were as ready as we ever would be.
We stayed downtown the night before the race because we live rather far from the downtown area and we had no interest in beginning our commute at 5:00 a.m. No. Thank. You. The day before the race we headed to the marathon expo to pick up our race packets, then had an early pasta dinner back at the hotel. We were in bed by 9:00 because that’s how we kick it.
Raceday morning, I got ready in much the same way as I prepared for our long runs during training. That is, I had toast lovingly spread with Laura Ann’s Jams blackberry bayleaf spread.
AND NOW FOR A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR:
(okay, just kidding. Laura Ann’s Jams is not an official sponsor of Ms. Fit. Laura Ann’s Jams is, however, a line of amazingly delicious, awesome jams and spreads made with high quality, locally-sourced all natural ingredients by a small batch super cool feminist artisan jam maker. Toast with Laura Ann’s jam is an excellent way to glucose and carbo load before a long run or a big workout. Some of my favorite flavors include the aforementioned Blackberry Bayleaf, as well as Blueberry Basil, Strawberry Syrah, Cherrylicious, Fabulous Fig, and Maple Pumpkin Butter.)
WE NOW RETURN TO OUR REGULAR PROGRAMMING.
Once fed, my next step is to lube up as much as possible with anti-chafing cream. Because, chafing. It’s bad and sad.
My clothes are all laid out and ready to go; the race bib is even already pinned to my shirt.
And how am I feeling this morning? Pretty good. It’s a gorgeous, perfect day out: sunny and in the mid-fifties at 7:00 a.m. Nikki and I walk down to find our starting corral before getting into the long, slow moving line for a last pee.
If you are a runner, you know that no matter how much you peed before you left the house, when you get to the race site and the race is just about to begin, you will have to pee again. And here’s the rub. Sometimes, you wait in line a million years and when you finally get there, all that comes out is, like, a drop. It was a race day nerves false alarm. But sometimes, out of seemingly nowhere, you piss like a racehorse and instantly feel 10 pounds lighter freer and more comfortable and at ease. The problem is, you never know which it is going to be: the desert or the downpour, so you wait.
After we make it through the bathroom line, we barely get to the starting corral before they close it off. And then we wait. There’s this annoying as hell announcer who is supposed to be pepping us up for the run. In my humble opinion, his technique could use a little work. Here’s his spiel:
“Hey, I’ve got bad news for you all. You’re not going to win this race. This race is going to suck, but at least you’ll be able to cross it off your bucket list and get on with the rest of your pathetic lives. Look, at least there’s beer at the end. In fact, I could use a beer, now. Oh, crap, why even bother? We’re all doomed.”
With that pep talk, and about 20 minutes of fits and starts, finally at about 8:20 a.m., we were off. And it was a beautiful day and we were having fun. We wanted to stick to a 12-ish minute mile but I kept speeding up and Nikki would remind me to slow down.
Oh, but remember that part about having to pee before the race? Because that’s not all. Without fail, whenever you are going for a long run, once you’re about 15-minutes into it, everything has had enough time to jiggle around so that you have to go to the bathroom again. Of course the guys don’t have a problem with this; they pee wherever the hell they want. With women, it’s a problem.
For this reason, the first bathrooms on the course are always the most popular. These came up at about mile three, and by then we both really felt like we had to go, so we had no choice but to get in line and wait. While folks raced past us and the clock ticked off, we stood in the slow-moving line (what are these people doing in there? Playing Bejewelled Blitz? It’s a port-a-potty for Pete’s sake! Do your business and get the hell out as fast as you can, has always been my philosophy). Once I got to the bathroom it was worth it, but the wait set us back by about 15 minutes.
We kicked up our pace a bit and finished the first half at just over an 11-minute mile. It was still sunny and fun and we were happy as we marked off milestones along the way: Old Town, Boy’s Town, back to Old Town, and then you’re in the heart of downtown Chicago again, and then your branching off on that part where you head due west.
There’s something very psychologically satisfying about getting halfway through a long race distance; knowing that whatever you have left to run is less than what you have already run. On top of that, we had a few other secret weapons up our sleeves. For one, both of us made special playlists for our IPods with the agreement that we’d save them for the last half of the race, when we’d need the extra motivation the most. Also, we’d asked our friends who wanted to come out and support us to cheer us on from mile 14 or beyond.
Fortuitously, this article in Jezebel magazine came out just as I was contemplating what to put on my marathon playlist. In general, I agree with the author – when it comes to choosing music that will help motivate you through 26.2 miles, you can’t let pride get in the way. So, in the interest of full disclosure, here is my annotated playlist, in running order:
Chariots of Fire by Vangelis (this was especially great when the playlist began to repeat only about two miles from the finish. By that point I was running slowly enough that I didn’t even have to mimic the “slow-mo” effect).
Flashdance – What a Feeling by Irene Cara (like I said, don’t let pride get in the way. whatever works!)
Young Hearts Run Free by Candi Staton
Girl on Fire by Alicia Keyes
Survivor by Destiny’s Child
Stronger by Kelly Clarkson
Baby, I’m a Star by Prince (The BEST!)
Bust a Move by Young MC (no shame!)
Buffalo Stance by Neneh Cherry
If That Was Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night) by Michelle Ndegeocello
Lose Yourself by Eminem
Set it Off by Peaches
Lose Control by Missy Elliot
212 by Azealia Banks
Rehab by Amy Winehouse
Lust for Life by Iggy Pop
You Oughta Know by Alanis Morisette (I said, NO SHAME!)
Mandinka by Sinead O’Connor
Dress by PJ Harvey
25th Floor by Patti Smith (LOVE Patti, but this song sucked for running).
Cannonball by The Breeders
Brimful of Asha (Normal Cook Remix) by Cornershop
Stayin’ Alive by The Bee Gees
Shake it Out by Florence & The Machine (too perfect)
Roar by Katy Perry
Aint Got No / I Got Life Groovefinder Remix by Nina Simone (too, too, too perfect!)
Praise You by Fatboy Slim
Brand New Day by The Eurythmics
This was a little over two hours of music, so perfect for the second half of the marathon.
As I mentioned, besides music, another new twist to liven up the second half of the race was the appearance of friends who’d come out to cheer us on. We met the first group of friends at mile 16, and encountered subsequent groups roughly every two to three miles after that, up until mile 25, which was just great.
Marathon runners often “hit a wall” somewhere around 18 to 20 miles, when their bodies stops processing glycogen for energy and has to switch to fat; it’s like a major shift in gears that can make you feel like you’re running hip-deep in molasses. During this run, I remember passing twenty miles and still feeling pretty good; no wall for me.
This changed at about mile 22. Suddenly, I started to lose interest in running. Happily, though, our Ms. Fit road crew met us at mile 23 with silly string, and we had subsequent friends near miles 25 and 26. And obviously, by that point, we’re clearly just going to finish the monster, molasses or no. And so we did! Our finishing time was about 5 hours 40 minutes, which is pretty damn slow. Since we finished the first half, despite the 15-minute bathroom break) averaging an 11-minute mile, I am blaming our repeated social visits for our slow time in the second half, but I wouldn’t trade that for anything; having so many friends turn out to cheer us on really, truly propelled me to the finish line. So thanks, all! You know who you are.
Recently, I read an article that referred to resentment from faster runners about slow runners participating in marathons. One dude thought finishing limits should be capped off at five hours, and stated that anything slower than that is basically a walkathon.
Now, here is where I will confess that I once felt a similar snobbery when it came to race medals. I used to feel that medals should only be awarded for races of ten miles or longer, what I considered to be “real” accomplishments. Now, I realize how bullshit that is; that it is not up to me to determine what a worthy accomplishment is or isn’t for someone else, and I remember all too well what an accomplishment it felt like to me to run one whole mile nonstop for the first time. If I don’t want a medal to commemorate a 5K run, then I don’t have to take one.
Now I say to the marathon snobs, what’s the issue? Is 26.2 miles any shorter for slow runners (or walkers)? Is the marathon any less of an accomplishment? Are walkers and slow runners in any way interfering with your own marathon speed and performance? And between you and me, frankly, I don’t think you have a much better chance of winning this thing than I do. Get over yourself.
That said, as someone who participates in a number of races with runners of all speeds and stripes, I do have one beef to air. When it comes to walking in a race, can we all agree that walkers should move to the right (a “slow” lane), so they don’t block people who are trying to run? And can the left lane be the fast or passing lane? Why are these considerations not already the norm? They would make life easier for everyone participating in a race. Okay, I’ll step off of the soapbox for now.
After crossing the finish line, Nikki and I ached and pained our way down to the friends and family meet-up area. There, we had the good fortune of meeting up with our awesome friend, Unsoo, who is a physical therapist, and who stretched us out. Thanks, UnSoo, I love you! After lollygagging for a bit and meeting up with other friends (our Ms. Fit road crew kindly went to our hotel and grabbed sweatshirts for us. We are very lucky because we have the best friends ever), we managed to regain upright positions and amble over to a nearby spot for well-earned pizza and beer.
Unless you are a hardcore marathon runner, the most common response to finishing a marathon is “Well, I did that, it was great, but never again.” That’s what I said last year, after running in the Prague marathon, and we said it again this year after Chicago. And this time, we mean it. Except, there is always that part of you that says, “If I just trained a little better, if I just ran a little faster…”