A Chicago Medal I Earned: Chicago Marathon 2009 Race Report

Pre-Race
It seems that the excitement of a marathon makes it easy for me to wake up. Although I’m normally someone who hits the snooze button about 87,000 times every morning, I woke up easily in San Francisco last year, and even more easily on Chicago Marathon morning. 3:30 am, to be exact. With cold weather forecasted at the starting line, I did the only thing I could do: layer. Nike pants, Nike shorts, long sleeved running tee, Girls on the Run tee, old jacket I was willing to throw away. I pinned back my bangs and added as much hairspray as humanly possible, added my tiara, and I was ready to go. Mom, Dad, Daniel, and Colleen arrived around 4:18 to pick us up. (Yes, I noticed every minute late they were. I get a little frantic pre-race.) In the car, I munched on my bagel, drank water, and got excited.

We arrived in Chicago around 5:25 and hung around in the Hilton lobby for awhile. 5:50 meant it was time to start heading to Charity Village and the Girls on the Run tent. I wore some old sneakers into Charity Village, because it was muddier than muddy. Inside the tent, it was awesome. They had it all decorated with all of our names on little sneakers, tattoos and mini-body glides available, and lots of water, Gatorade, and snacks for later. David arrived around 6:40. We checked our gear, got settled, and headed over to meet my family, waiting outside Charity Village.

After snapping a few pictures, it was off to the starting line. We were so far back, I didn’t even notice when the gun went off! We heard some people cheer, and David mentioned that he thought it was the start. About 25 minutes later, we were finally running across the starting line.

I Love This Race: Miles 1 – 10
I cannot remember ever feeling more calm, confident, and happy than at the start of this race. I came back to take Chicago by storm. I came back to finally finish this race. The weather was perfect, and nothing was going to stand in my way. David was a rockstar, making sure everyone we passed cheered me on. The crowds were surreal. I wasn’t worried about what time it was, but somehow I knew I was holding an awesome pace. It was perfect. Somewhere in there, we stopped to pee and had to wait in a ridiculously long line that actually moved pretty faced. And then we just ran. And walked. And ran some more. Saw my family around mile 2.5, blew lots of kisses and kept running. I saw my in-laws a few blocks later, and blew more kisses and kept running. I even saw a college classmate, Jenny, and stopped to hug her. Then I kept running some more.

Around mile 5, I started to get really excited about finding Barb. I must have said a million times, “Barb’s around mile 7.5. By the fountain. On the left.” Not that I even needed that information. We heard her screaming and cheering before we even saw her. I turned to David and said, “You can tell why I love her, right?” With my little running entourage, I was blissfully unaware of anything but happy things on the course. Friends, family, and wonderful crowd support. Around mile 8, we caught my dad as we were running through Boys Town. Shortly afterwards, we saw the rest of the family, cheering away. For awhile there, all I saw were supportive faces. Colleen & Matt were just ahead of my family, and then a surprise visit from my student, Max, and his family! I wasn’t expecting to see them until the end. Then Colleen & Matt again.

Miles 11 – 16: I Think my Ankle/Knee/Back Hurts/I’m Nauseous (aka I’m Whiny)
At this point, I started to feel the little aches and pains that go along with marathons. I was kind of whiny, but I think I was still somewhere remotely positive.  I figured these were aches and pains that would pass, I tried to get a little more Sport Bean in me, and kept going.  I saw another student, Olivia, and her brothers, Joe and Mark, with their parents.  I hugged them all, and kept going.  I saw my family around the half, and I kept going.  I remember seeing a guy with a life-size Zac Effron cutout that had a speech bubble saying, “What time is it?  Marathon time!”  And I laughed, because I knew Jon would love it.  Other than that, I don’t remember a whole lot. David told jokes and stories and asked me questions to get my mind off running.  Barb encouraged me to eat and find my inner rockstar. But around mile 16.5, when I saw my family (this time with my cousins, too!), I was bonking. I just didn’t realize it yet.

Mile 17: Bonk.
I can look back now and say that this is the mile I totally bonked. Unfortunately, I also know exactly why — and it’s all my fault. It was at this point that I started truly hating myself, hating running, and hating life. (I may have started saying all those things earlier, but this is when it hit my core.) Every time I ran, I felt extreme stomach-growling hunger. However, I was nauseous, too, and sugary Gatorade and Sport Beans do nothing for nausea. My body was screaming at me and I had no idea what to do to make things better. I knew I needed to eat. I also knew that the things I had to eat would only make me more nauseous. I was physically stuck, which created an even bigger mental trap.

Miles 18 – 26: They Carried Me
I am so lucky to have had the support of two amazing people throughout this race. It was really the perfect combination. David would tell me I was awesome, get me to talk/think about other things, tell jokes, run away when I needed to just cry, and overall just be nice. Barb would tell me to shut up, that she knew I could do it, that I wasn’t as strong as I was giving myself credit for, and that I needed to push harder to get a time I wanted. I’m not sure I was particularly nice to either of them, with my repeated tears and whining, but they were incredible to me. I saw Colleen, Matt, and my cousins, Kurt & Craig, and Ameena & her brother in Chinatown. It was great to have some support in the quiet, back half of the course.

Somewhere down south there, I think I remember someone saying on Jackson, the end of the race vehicle passed us. I wish I had a competitive bone in my body. This is where a more competitive person finds strength and says, “I am NOT going to let them pass me. I can keep pace with that thing.” and pushes hard to stay ahead. Not me. I just cry and think, “Well, it happened again.” For some reason, that thing passing me makes me lose my urge to fight. Barb would try to pump me up by telling me we were going to count the people we passed. “No,” I said between tears, “I don’t want to make them feel bad because someone passed them.” If you were ever wondering why I don’t do anything competitive, there’s your answer.

We made some friends in the hellish part of the course. Doug from Detroit was running with tendinitis and was a complete rockstar. You could tell that every single step brought new pain, and he just kept pushing through. I was in awe of Doug. Brittany was running her first marathon and just needed someone to tell her it would be okay. We did. Unlike in San Francisco, there were still many behind us. That made things a little easier to handle. As upset as I got, I never reached a point where I thought I wouldn’t finish. I did reach several points where I wanted nothing more than to sit down on the curb.

Barb played mind games with me. “We’re going to run until we count to 50, I’ll count.” “Okay, now we’re going to run for 60 seconds, come on.” She really carried me those last few miles, with David cheering every step of the way.

Mile 26 – 26.2: The Stupid Hill
All along the back part of the course, I promised I would run up that hill. I ran to mile 26, where I saw Jon and got a kiss. Then I asked if we could walk together to the turn. I promised I’d put everything left into that last .15ish of a mile Barb said, “Fine, but you better leave it all out here, wench!” I love her. So I did. Jon walked me up the rest of the hill. (Whose bright idea was it to put a hill there anyway?) And then I just grabbed every ounce of remaining energy and ran. I flew and I grinned, because the Chicago Marathon finish line was ahead of me. I saw my cousins, my parents, my brother, and his fiance cheering and cheering. I was so thrilled to finally cross it, arms held high.

I remember looking down at my medal, long and hard, tears welling as I said, “I earned this.”

I met up with Colleen & Matt, Max & his family, and then my own family. Everyone was supportive and wonderful with lots of hugs.

The Aftermath
Oddly enough, it’s still a roller coaster of emotions. Less than 24 hours after I crossed the finish line, I’m not sure what to make of it. I’m proud of myself for pushing through when it got hard. I’m so grateful to everyone who dragged me through. But it’s so much easier to say, “They cancelled the race,” or “We didn’t know about the cutoff.” It’s a little harder to stomach (no pun intended) that I just totally messed up. I know how much food my body needs. I’ve done plenty of long runs and had plenty of time to practice. The time to mess up on nutrition is not race day. I can’t believe I let myself down like that. I have this nagging thought that if I’d kept those Sport Beans going, I’d have at least gotten a 6:15:00. Dad things 6:00:00, but I think he’s being a little overzealous. :)

Daniel just finished reading Lance Armstrong’s book, and that even he bonked on a race. That makes me feel a little better.

Part of me thinks that I’m truly a half-marathoner who happens to attempt marathons once in a while. I can’t decide what my next move will be. Do I focus on half marathons for a while, and really push for that 2:30 or sub-2:30 half? And then try a marathon after I tackle halves a little better, and am stronger? Or do I just say, “forget it” and sign up for Chicago 2010? Lots to think about. I probably won’t make any decisions until I’m a little stronger again, mentally. But one thing’s for sure… I will keep on running. Despite what I may have said countless times yesterday, I love this sport.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “A Chicago Medal I Earned: Chicago Marathon 2009 Race Report

  1. D'Andra

    I am so proud of you, Lauren! You truly are an inspiration and I have tears in my eyes reading your story of race day. xoxo

  2. Tracey

    You did it! You should be so proud of yourself, I am!

  3. Kal

    I just read this story in the Tribune, what an amazing story. I ran the 1/2 marathon and have a new respect for people who can finish a whole marathon. Way to Go!!!!

  4. Sarah

    Way to go! You did it and it does not matter how long it took. You did what most people talk about but never do. Good work!

  5. Way to dig down and finish that marathon, Lauren!

  6. Having been a back of the packer myself for many years I can so relate. Heck when I did my first marathon on 2003 I was the first to leave the line at the early start and the last to cross the finish some 8 hours later.

    You Rock! Keep on running.

  7. I found your blog through WordPress’s “fastest growing blogs” and as a fellow runner (I’ve done three half marathons but never a full), I wanted to congratulate you on a great race! I had three friends out there with you and all of you did a fantastic job. Enjoy the post-race high and soreness (as if you can enjoy being sore). You earned it!

  8. Came through Barb’s blog – congrats! For sure it is one big emotional roller coaster :) Starts with training and doesnt actually end until you find the answer to the question you asked yourself at the end … whats next? Then, its starts all over again!

    Enjoy the moment and your accomplishment. You did it!

  9. Marcia

    I found your link through a forum I frequent and let me say Thank you! You are an inspiration. I am running my first half this weekend and I am so scared. But your journey has inspired me to give it my all and finish it. You rock and congrats on finishing the Chicago Marathon. Your awesome! Thank you again.

  10. I have no clue how I stumbled across your blog, or the Chicago story, but I am glad I did. I sat here in tears reading it all.. you are a hero my friend.

  11. Sean

    You did it!! Nobody can ever take that away from you. I did see you on the course, but at the time I did not know about you. I wish you the best of luck in your running. I myself never thought I could do a marathon but support of a friend got me into it. We did our first marathon at Walt Disney World, as well as our second and now Chicago. Your times will improve as long as you have family and friends who support you.

    I look foreward to seeing you in future marathons.

  12. Sandy

    Congradulations Lauren! I knew you would and could do it! Don’t stop running – do it as long as you can! I’m proud to know you as a marathon runner, one of my son’s previous awesome teachers, and a friend. Keep the inspiration momentum going, and run girl run!

  13. Made my way over from Barb’s blog. Amazing story. Love the race report. So honest. So real. So moving.

    Congratulations on finishing the race! Enjoy the recovery. You earned it!

  14. Hi Lauren,
    Just wanted to say I remember you and your entourage going by at Mile 23ish (we were the ones with the “Heroes” sign :) And I have to tell you, your story is one that we saw on many, many faces that day – you just tell it with the wit and humor that we all hope to have!

    Congratulations on finishing a great race – and on sharing your story with so many folks. You’re a runner. Whether you’re a half runner who does marathons or whatever doesn’t matter so much as what you said – you really do just love to run :)

  15. slowbutrelentless

    Congratulations from another back of the packer/charity runner at this year’s Chicago Marathon! Thank you for sharing your story–I’m sending it to everyone who has dared to ask how my marathon went. :) I related to your experience on so many levels and it was wonderful to read about your race. You rock!

  16. Pingback: I Love the Chicago Marathon |

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