Bottle This Feeling

Chicago Marathon 2013 has been driven by one thing. Redemption. After all the struggle, all the emotional low points this year, Sunday’s race became so much more than marathon #4. It became more than my determination to BQ. It became my chance to build confidence and to show that patience persists.

This last year of running has been an emotional roller coaster. Training for Chicago 2012 marked what I felt was my true return to running. I was rapidly progressing, until I was hit yet again with an injured IT band. Marathon day came with highs (31 minute PR) and lows (missing Boston by 23 seconds). But 2012 also gave me the courage to step up my training and to register for a spring marathon to make up those 23 seconds. Winter training was 100% dedicate to visions of Boston. On the day of my spring marathon, Chicago was hit with unseasonably hot and humid weather, resulting in heat exhaustion at mile 18 and a death march to the finish.

I was devestated. Twice having been in the shape to qualify and still not having done so. My body was broken and spirit was crushed. And so, I did the only thing I knew how to do as a runner. I kept plodding along. I wrestled with the idea of foregoing Chicago 2013 to squeeze in an earlier fall marathon to try to squeak in a qualifying time. However, due to the events in Boston this spring, the registration process remained full of uncertainty. By July, I gave up on the obsession with Boston 2014, realizing I had worked too hard to risk putting it all on the line with the looming possibility that something still may prevent the seemingly elusive BQ.

Chicago became the driving force for the remainder of the summer. I also let go of my obsession with Boston. Instead of allowing Boston to be my end all, my goal became to run to my potential, which I was reasonably certain at this point was beyond a 3:35:00. Boston would be the sweet reward, but no longer a controlling factor.

Fast forward to race day. Standing in the twilight at the starting line, feelings battling in the pit of my stomach between a controlled anxiety and nervous apprehension. I immediately scoped out the 3:25 pace leader and settled myself in with the group. For anyone familiar with the Chicago course, the first few miles are always unpredictable. As we began running, I started to allow the nerves to take over and anxiety was starting to control. Mile 1 was a few seconds slow, but miles 2-4 were posting about 15-20 seconds fast. The pace was not feeling great and I couldn’t stop myself from wondering if I was so far out of my groove at this point, how were the remaining 22 miles going to feel. Knowing my family would be close to mile 4, I willed myself to stay calm until then and planned on putting in my headphones.

Then something happened that changed the entire course of my race. I realized I had pulled ahead of the pacer and began searching around frantically. I knew we had gone out fast and I knew now was not the time to lose the group. A woman running next to me must have seen the frantic look on my face (I have never been one to hide emotions well) and reassured me that the pace group was right behind us. She also commented how much better it felt easing into the steady 7:49 pace rather than the 7:30 pace we were hitting earlier. So it wasn’t just me!

We then continued to chat for the next 10 miles or so. And I knew at this moment that my worst enemy was in my own head. I was now hitting the paces right where I needed to feeling much more effortless than the previous miles. We reconnected with the pace group somewhere between 16 and 18 and I knew then that I was going to be okay.

The last miles of a marathon are always a mind game. By the time you hit 18-20 you have been running for a significant amount of time, but can never fully relax because you know that there is still plenty of time for things to go wrong. By mile 18 I knew I was holding steady ahead of the pace group, but was still uncertain whether I should try to kick it up a notch or just hang on for dear life. I chose what I believed was the smarter (and more conservative) approach, knowing that I had already paced myself slightly on the aggressive side. By mile 23, I knew that barring any unforeseen complication, I would finish at my goal pace. By mile 24, my cardio still felt great, but my legs started having muscle spasms and I became slightly less confident. At mile 25, I felt like every stride was staving off the lactic acid. At mile 26, I counted down each quarter mile until the finish line appeared.

My final time was 3:24:02. When I printed out my splits, I realized my first and second half splits were nearly exactly even. Finally, the pieces were coming together. This puzzle, the constant questioning of myself, my choices, was finally starting to come together.

Take that 23 seconds. I’ll raise you 10:58.

Vindicated. Bottle this feeling.