Thursday, October 24, 2013

First Thoughts After Finishing

I had anticipated during training how my range of post Chicago Marathon emotions would be.

As I crossed the finish line this year, I teared up a few times.

I remember not getting emotional the first year and then wondering if I was missing out on something by not crying. If everyone else is, shouldn't I? Am I missing out on an experience? I made up for it the second year where I completely lost my you know what in the finisher's corral. A sobbing mess. Come on, can't I get something in between?

The tears were ones of triumph. Though my body and mind have been through a marathon several times, the rush of emotions after finishing is so incredibly unique that I fight to find a word other than triumph.

The running great Frank Shorter once said "You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can't know what's coming." 

Ah ha, Frank, you're a smart man.

A little bit of triumph and a lot of the Marine Corps Marathon Godzilla.

What was I thinking? I just finished a marathon and I'm in pain. I want to do this to myself again in two weeks?

Yep Frank, not forgotten yet. I must give myself some time.

I walked through the finisher's corral and loaded up on water, Gatorade (I can barely stomach the thought of drinking another cup, but my body needs it, so let's do this), bananas, a box from Mariano's and of course, a beer. I skip over the mylar blanket (not really feeling the spaceman post marathon thing) and the finisher photos. I make eye contact with a guy my Dad's age who puts the medal around my head. He says he is proud of me. I start tearing up again.

I walk slowly towards gear check. This has to be the slowest I've walked. Ever. But I try to enjoy it for what it is. It's not running and I'm happy about that right now. I find Jeff at the end of the finisher's corral. He tells me he beat our 2012 PR by 30 seconds. I am so happy he went for it. I'm so happy for Jeff in that moment that I don't care about my time.

We grab my bag and talk for a few minutes. Jeff's heading back to the CARA compound in the Hilton and I'm going to meet up with my Mom, Dave and Kim at runner reunite. I wobble my way to K and see three familiar and very smiley faces.

We pack up and head to the train to go home. We reach the train station at Jackson and the elevator is out of order. Of course it is. The one day I'm willing to use it. I walk down the two long sets of stairs backwards to the platform.

A few minutes later a train arrives. I'm lucky enough to grab a seat. To sit feels glorious.

My mind wanders as we travel back to my place. I find myself thinking of Marine Corps and being excited.

It doesn't take long, does it Frank?

Race Day [Chicago Marathon 2013]

Sunday was the day, October 13th.

A day I've trained for 18 weeks for.

Marathon morning.

I laid everything out the night before and slept surprisingly well. Maybe the nerves settle over time as you form a routine with a race.

I walked to the train around 5:30. This year the marathon required that all participants use the expo issued bag for gear check. I walked into the station and up to the platform. It was filled with people carying the same bag. It amazes me to see all these people, likely my neighbors, have all been training for the same race I have. We've run on the same streets for hours over the summer. We are just one section of one neighborhood of Chicago.

The reach of the Chicago Marathon never ceases to amaze me.

I head downtown a bit earlier that morning planning extra time for added race security. I meet up with Jeff and Ann on the train. Jeff and I exit the train and walk into the Chicago Hilton around 6:30. The hotel is a marathon runner mad zone. We run in to one of our pace leaders and reshuffle the items in our gear check bags. The bathroom line is crazy, so we head out to the super secret CARA porta potties. We arrive at the location to no line. Every year I think to myself that having quick access to a restroom this close to the start line is worth it's weight in gold.

Shortly after 7 we are set up in Corral G. The 7:30 wave starts, but we're too far away to hear the gun go off. There's a good 20,000 runners in front of us. The mass moves forward and the Start line structure grows larger. By 8:08, we've crossed the start line.

From the start line on out, much of the race is a blur. I feel good. Jeff and I are talking as the miles click away. We see my Mom, uncle and Dave at a few locations on the North Side. On the way back south, we see my friend Sara. We maintained our pace well back through downtown and the out and back west.

Through UIC is where my body started to realize we were nowhere close to done. We kept up a good pace in the next few miles. During this time, I began to feel cramping coming on in my left foot. I've had this feeling while sitting or sleeping, but never while running. As we pass mile 21, the cramping is growing more pronounced to where I'll have to walk it off. Our pacing has been great up to this point. We're on pace to break last year's PR by eight minutes. I look to Jeff and tell him to keep going. He should PR today. I don't want to hold him back with whatever my foot has going on.

Kim jumps in with me through mile 25. That's where the best laid plans can fall apart. I am always so grateful to have her there on Archer. She tells me the runner tracking system hasn't been working well this year. We talk in small spurts about how I feel, how the elites did (they've been finished for hours by now), funny posters we saw, and keep working our way through miles 22-25. I walk through the aid stations and any time my foot ceases up.

During this time, I continue to switch my watch back and forth between current pace and overall time. I'm checking in to see if I can still make it in under last year's time. I watch the minutes pass until I realize it's not possible. Then, for a short time, I'm mad. I should have been able to do this. Then I realize what I'm doing to myself. I'm running a marathon. I have trained for months for these 4.5 hours today. I've been looking forward to it. Now I'm spending time being mad at myself for not PR'ing? Seriously? Why do I even care that much? I flush these thoughts away and focus on the positive. I'm doing this. Every step I'm closer to done, no matter how I get there.

As we reach the final mile, Kim turns off the course and I continue north on Michigan. One more mile. I can do this. After I finish this mile, I don't have to run for awhile. There will be beer at the finish. I inch up the Roosevelt bridge until I can see the Finish line just around the corner. Suddenly I can run a bit faster until my foot hits the sensor mats.

Finished. Chicago Marathon 6. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Race Day Plus One

Columbus Day has taken on a new meaning to me over the last few years. One in which I'm grateful to have the day off.

The Columbus Day holiday is now known as marathon plus one. 

My routine on this day is unlike any other:

I sleep in late (relative to the 5 or 6 a.m. that's been a standard most of the summer). I realize even before I'm fully conscious that I'm sore and stiff. Yep, I know what day it is. 

I hobble out of bed and get dressed. I feel like I'm elderly. I lay my outfit on the bed, then sit down to put my socks on. I can stand. I can sit. But everything in between is hard.

 I have a long massage scheduled for this morning. I'm looking forward to it, however, there are obstacles between my kitchen and my massage therapist's house.

First, there's a flight of stairs down to street level. My building has no elevator. The stairs register as a level of difficulty that's not normal. I make a plan as to how I'll get down them. The easiest way is to turn around and walk down backwards, but I'm too proud to do that. Instead, I do a sideways shuffle down the stairs, holding into the handrail for the first time this year. 

There's one more step out the building, then I'm in the alley. I now have to walk just two blocks to my therapists house. I start walking slowly, using proper crosswalks and making sure the walking man isn't flashing. Where normally I like to challenge the crosswalk countdown and walk or run across, today I have one speed. And it's slow. 

My body feels marginally better following the massage. I know today is the hardest and slowest day. I'm thankful today that my world is so small.

Halfway between my house and the massage therapist is Starbuck's.  Usually I treat myself to any crazy Starbuck's concoction that sounds good. I burned thousands of calories yesterday. I deserve it. But today I walk in to Starbucks and order something light on the caffeine and sugar. Though I was lucky enough to not have my neck issue fair up in the race, it's still there. The MT thinks I need to curb back my intake of both of these delicious controlled substances, so I'm trying to play along. I buy the paper today. All marathon finisher's names and times are posted in a special section. 

I sit outside and enjoy my drink and read up on the elite race yesterday. My day is wide open now. No training run to do today. 

My best friend came to visit later on in the day with her son. We went out to lunch and spent the rest of the day catching up on life.

How different today is from yesterday. It's nice and I enjoy it, but I know it can't be every day. 

Especially not this year. This year, I'm running another race 13 days from now. 

Marine Corps Marathon Video

In the unlikely event that I wasn't excited enough or had my doubts about the Marine Corps Marathon, this video provides all the confirmation I need:

Bring it. I just hope my road to recovery puts me in a good position for a week from Sunday.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Taper Panic

Early this morning, I was on the bus headed to work.

A majority of the time I doze off on the bus. I welcome the bus ride most days. It breaks apart my work like and home life. I catch up on social media, emails, maybe even read up on the government shut down.

Today I was wide awake and my mind was racing. Here's what it was thinking -

A pain has developed down the left side of my neck which has my sleep schedule in flux. 

After the first few days of the pain, I went to my massage therapist. He worked through the problem area and checked my alignment. The suggestions - stand up straight. No more purse on the shoulder. Stay away from caffeine and sugar. And possibly try - seeing a chiropractor or a muscle relaxer. 

The first two recommendations are easy. Staying away from caffeine and sugar is pretty challenging, but I'm trying to reduce as much as possible. Then there's the chiro and muscle relaxers. I'm reluctant to do either. 

When I was a kid, I was always the tallest one in the class. It remained that way until high school when finally some of the basketball and football players were taller.  Being tall at a young age has it's pros and cons. One con being that for whatever reason, if you are tall, you're almost automatically on the scoliosis watch list. 

Did anyone else have that in middle school or junior high? I don't remember if they ever explained what it was to us, but rather that we had a screening. I'd had my hearing and vision checked at school and nothing bad had happened. But the scoliosis screen was different. After being reviewed in a makeshift exam room covered by sheet partitions in the gym, I was given a colored slip. I remember bring the only one in my class who got one.

 I was officially on the watch list.

In 5th or 6th grade, I was pretty sure scoliosis meant death. Why am I the only messed up one? This is what I get for being tall? I didn't even ask to be tall. 

For years there after, I was checked and screened regarding the spine. And I hated every minute of it. That is, up until it ended (as in, the screening stopped). Then I was free. 

Every time I see a chiropractor's office set up for a free screening, I think back to middle school. Certainly they will find something wrong with me. Then I'll have adjustment appointments for life. 

But I trust my massage therapist. So I guess I should do it. 

Then there's muscle relaxers. I know they have their purpose and some people swear by them. I'm more focused on getting to the source of the pain than masking the pain. I don't think it's the solution for me.

Especially not when I have a race Sunday.

Hope it magically goes away by then.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

In Between Races

This year, I'm mixing things up.

I waiver between thinking my change of pace is completely awesome or completely and utterly dumb.

I've registered for two marathons...14 days apart.

The Chicago Marathon is this Sunday, October 13th. I'm proud to say this is my hometown marathon. 

When I first started training for a marathon, my goal was to run Chicago once. I was inspired to run Chicago after watching my uncle run the race while I was in high school. Talk about a memory that has lasted nearly a lifetime.

I've thought about not running Chicago. I could, per say, run a marathon somewhere else. Maybe another big city marathon. But the thing that always brings me back is what a great, I mean fantastic, race Chicago is. How can I not run Chicago when it's so damn convenient? 

It would be like me telling you I don't like the new Trader Joe's location in Evanston. It has everything every other TJ's has but its in my backyard. No more traveling to Lakeview or Glenview for my Orange Chicken, Mango Salsa, Cookie Butter and everything else uniquely Trader Joe's that I now cannot live without. Location is key. Being in my car less makes me happy. Big win for TJ's Evanston (even if your parking lot is sort of a nightmare).

No really, Chicago truly is an outstanding race.  One in which I am lucky enough to sleep in my own bed the night before, jump on the same train I take often to work and can navigate downtown better than any other city. Huge pluses, er stars. 

So when Chicago's registration opened in February, I was one of the lucky few who got in without registration issues. Chicago Marathon #6 was confirmed. 

A number of weeks later, registration for the Marine Corps Marathon opened. This was the race I had my eyes on this year. Though the registration process proved challenging, I had a registration confirmation before the race sold out. 

And then, back in March, suddenly I had two marathons two weeks apart. 

So, to the question everyone is asking me - How are you training in between?

Well, that's a great question. One in which I've done maybe a half hour of research on so far. My first source was Hal Higdon. Hal's the man. His training programs have gotten me through five marathons and probably two dozen halves, so if he says he has a plan for two marathons two weeks part, I'm just going to go with it. One day, after my thirty minutes of research concluded, I wrote down the run schedule on a napkin and pinned it to my cork board in my office. Very official. 

I've talked with a few friends who've done multiple marathons in a condensed period, including my friend George, a man who knocks out two marathons in two states in a weekend on a regular basis. The wisdom passed along to me so far has been to pick one race as my goal race.  The other is just for fun. What if goal race and fun effort are the same? I'm trying to wrap my head around that. 

My plan thus far goes something like this. Run Chicago. Don't die. Don't get sick. Don't get injured. Run a smart race (mainly this means listen to your body - my body doesn't like heat). Drink beer after crossing finish line and start honing in on best recovery practices for 13 days. Go for a long massage the next day. Maybe another before boarding the plane to DC. Drink lots of fluids. Stretch. Try to jog it out like Hal instructed. Attend a moderate yoga class (tone down the arm balances or inversions at The Lab if needed). Eat a lot and anything I want, cause, I just bought myself two more weeks of it. 

The end. 

Let's see how this works (or doesn't). 

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Race Spectators & Support Crew

There's a lot to be said about training and racing (I think that goes without saying from someone who blogs weekly about it).

But one important aspect that I have written very little about to date is the spectator.

What would a race be with no spectators? I can tell you it's not a race I'd want to participate in.

Spectators can make two races on the same course feel different. They create an uplifting and inspirational vibe, often right when I'm feeling far from inspirational.

I may have gotten up early on race day to participate in the race, but those people on the sidelines, they got up early to cheer someone on. They could have stayed in bed. They probably have many things on their to do list. But on that morning, they made their way to the race site, grabbed a cup of their favorite coffee and established camp somewhere along the sidewalk. For the next hour to few hours, they have dedicated and volunteered their time to cheer.

From the Boystown Cheerleaders on the north side to the block party through Pilsen, spectators make every mile of the race different, just like the City we live in. 

They bring along balloons, funny signs and crafty comments. All are a distraction from the task at hand, so I welcome it, well, almost all of it. I have to fight back the urge to correct the guy at mile 20 who tells me I'm "almost there." Almost where? I barely know my name right now, where am I going? Or the ones who give false information about how far to go. I know they're trying to be helpful. But right then, in that moment, it takes everything in me to not correct them.

My Mom has spectated every marathon I have ever run. My Dad and best friend are right behind her. My boyfriend and a list of friends have been a great group of support as I've ran around Chicago in the last five years.

I've never known a marathon to be any other way.

What would it be like to run knowing there was no one out there trying to pick me out of the pack? It's a truly foreign concept, but yet, I'll find out in a few weeks in Washington D. C.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Peer Pressure Marathon

Running a marathon alone would be no fun.

Luckily, this probably never or very rarely happens.

But many runners do choose to train alone and then race where they may not know anyone else in the field.

The idea of a destination marathon always sounded fun. I've traveled to a few cities for half marathons which proved to be a fun weekend (Brian's Nashville hotel horror story aside).

Through the years of running the Chicago Marathon, I've met people who took on Chicago once and then went on to other states and countries to run other races. I've heard great post-race stories of journeys to OktoberFest in Munich, Amsterdam and Paris to name a few.

The question wasn't if I wanted to run a marathon in another city, but rather which marathon I wanted to run. After running Chicago five times, I have a love for the big city marathon format. Having tens or even hundreds of thousands of spectators cheering you on is truly inspiring. Nowadays, just about every large city has a marathon, so which one was I to choose?

I was pointed towards the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. Kim A. had run the race in 2005 and had a great experience. I'd met a few other people who had echoed her experience. I love Fort2Base, a race from Fort Sheridan to Great Lakes Naval Station, due to it's military theme. Then there's my brother, grandfather, uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbors and friends who have been members of our armed forces. What a great way to honor them.

These thoughts had been stewing in my head for some time before last year's Ready to Run 20 Miler. It was during the 20 Miler that Jeff and I got into a conversation about destination marathons. Jeff was running Chicago and then heading to Amsterdam for a second marathon two weeks later. As we discussed his plans that fall, we also discussed future plans. What other races did we want to run? We both said Marine Corps.

After the New Year, we regrouped on race registration plans. The Marine Corps Marathon registration was not until late March. It had sold out in less than a few hours in 2012. Knowing Marine Corps would be a tough race to get in to, Jeff and I both decided that we would register on February 1st for the Chicago Marathon.  Chicago is a great race, and neither of us minded running it again at all!

Amidst registration complications for both races, I was able to get into both. Our friend Carl had been successful in getting a Marine Corps registration. Jeff had gotten in to Chicago, but not Marine Corps. A few months later, he found a charity who works with Wounded Warriors to fundraise for. Jeff and I were now locked into two marathons in 14 days.

As they say, misery, or maybe insanity is a better word, loves company. It's more fun to run two marathons when you talk others in to it. So, in July as we had a few drinks at Jeff's before the Pearl Jam show, we managed to convince Jen to join us in D.C. We didn't have to work too hard to convince her. 

In a few weeks, the four of us will travel to Washington D.C. For three of us, it will be our second marathon of the fall.

The journey continues...