It's a very slow process - two steps forward, one step back - but I'm inching in the right direction. - Rob Reiner

October 15, 2013

The Chicago Marathon - Sometimes A Race Doesn't Go As Planned

I want to start and end this blog on a positive note, but there will be a little crying in between.  It's a long one...sorry.
Jim & I in Millennium Park...hanging with the pigs.

This weekend I was privileged enough to be able to run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.  I know it's a bucket list race for many people, and I know that I was very lucky to have been able to run it this year (for a multitude of reasons as most of you know).  It was an absolutely amazing experience overall and I wouldn't trade a minute of it, but the race in general did not go as I hoped, planned, or trained.

Jim and I arrived in beautiful downtown Chicago early Friday morning.  We walked around the city for a bit, and then I met a friend from high school for a brief lunch.  It was awesome being able to see my friend Patrick who's apartment is also right on the marathon he came down to cheer me on too.

Shortly after lunch my amazing friend Coy cruised in to town and we all headed to the expo.  The expo was about 3 miles from the hotel, but they offered free shuttles from 4 different locations around the city.  There was a shuttle not too far from us, but the overall process took quite a while.  Once we arrived the process was pretty seamless.  They scanned your "packet pickup ticket" that you received in the mail, verified your ID and then by the time you got to your assigned location your packet was ready to go.  It was pretty cool and super fast.

Chicago Marathon gear I clearly couldn't live without
The expo was HUGE and NIKE got plenty of my money.  We got to meet and get a picture with Ultramarthon Bad a$$ Scott Jurek.  He was the nicest person you could imagine.  I would have loved to have stayed at the expo longer, because we really only got to walk to a few booths, but Jim and I had dinner reservations at 5:15...early birds :)  It took a long time to get a shuttle back, and we barely made it back in time.  It was kind of stressful.

That first day went by in a blur.  It seemed like we walked a million miles (7.8 to be exact according to my FitBit) and tried to cram in a million things.  We had both been up since way early so we were crashed by 8:30 that night.  I slept like an absolute baby, one of the best nights sleep I'd had in a long time.  I have to say the Chicago Renaissance Hotel has super, super comfy beds.
Me & Jim with Scott Jurek

Saturday we had decided to try to take it pretty easy so we'd be rested for the race on Sunday.  We headed to Millennium Park to take the obligatory "Bean" pictures and enjoy the park a little, and then we planned to go to the movies.  Well, me being me, I start wondering if I wanted to go back to the expo.....we really hadn't gotten to spend a ton of time there. In the end I decided it just wasn't worth the 3 hours it would probably take to get there and back and actually look around.  I opted to hit the Nike Store on Michigan Avenue instead and of course found a shirt I couldn't live without.
Jim and I at the "Bean"

On our way out the craziest thing ever happened.  We were actually standing in front of the Garmin store getting ready to take a picture of me in front of the "Swim, Bike, Run" sign when this lady walks up and says "I read your blogs, both of your blogs, I never comment but I read them, but I did just leave a comment".  I said "Are you Theresa?" and she said "Yes"!  Just that morning before we left, I was reading her comment to Jim.  I said this lady is from Kansas City and she's been reading our blogs and she's doing Chicago too - her first marathon.  It was unbelievable in a City of that size, with over 50,000 people running that race that we just happened to be at the right place at the right time to meet up.  It was so COOL!  Makes you realize what a truly small world it can be.  And Theresa - huge shout out-------I looked up your time and you kicked my BUTT!!!  Way to rock your first marathon!
Meet up with Theresa!  Crazy!
After that we just hung in the room the rest of the afternoon until we met Coy and her family for dinner, where Jim accidently ordered fried chicken for his pre-race meal....I'm sure he'll share the details of that one on his blog.  After dinner we headed back to the hotel and got ready for race day.  I surprisingly had another pretty good night's sleep with the exception of a sneezing fit somewhere during the night. 

The next morning was RACE day.  I was excited, and nervous.  I was feeling pretty good.  I had been sick with a cold all week, but it was pretty much gone by Sunday.  Jim's race started at 7:30, but mine didn't start til 8 so we weren't leaving together but I followed him downstairs to wish him luck and get a couple of pictures.  I had grabbed my hotel key on the way down and put it in my jacket pocket.  When I got upstairs it wouldn't work.  I took it downstairs and said it wasn't working and the hotel clerk said, "Well, that's an Embassy Suites key, and you are staying at the Marriott".  Ooooppppssss...I had been in DC for work earlier in the week and didn't realize I still had that key in my purse.  I had to go upstairs and wait for security to let me back in the room...not exactly how you want to start your day, but at least they were quick.  I finished getting my stuff around and met Coy in the lobby.
Race morning, I was feeling ready...and a bit nervous

We walked to the starting location and chatted.  I was starting to get a bit more nervous, but I was so ready for this!  There were volunteers everywhere to assist you in getting to the proper gate, etc.  There were just people everywhere!  It was so cool.  The environment was just invigorating.  We stopped at the forever porta potty line and then got in our corral.  It was pretty chilly.  It was right at 50 degrees with a light wind.  It was going to be a beautiful day.  Within just a few minutes it was finally time to begin the race.
Coy & I before the race

Within the first few feet I said "hmmm....I don't feel as good as I would think I would, everything feels really tight"....this was going to be the first indication that the race was not going to go so hot.  Within the first minute of running, I had a terrible cramp/side stitch in my left side.  I rarely, if ever get side stiches, but I did have a few bad ones during training.  The race had literally just started so we weren't going fast at all, it wasn't a speed issue.  I don't know what the deal was.  I ate the same thing I ate before every training run.  It was pretty annoying because all I could focus on was getting it to go away, and not the race or talking to Coy.  The stich finally went away about mile 2.5, but these would come back to haunt me the rest of the race.

Just as you start the race you go underground where I immediately lost satellite reception on my Garmin, and for some reason, my Garmin was flaked out after that.  Within just a few minutes we hit "mile 1" on the Garmin.  It beeped and I was like we are already at mile 1?  No way.  I looked at the time a 9:50 way....we were going much slower than that, I knew it had to be wrong.  We couldn't even see a mile marker.  We kept going and about a quarter of a mile later we hit mile 1 at 12:05 - that was more like it.  But, my Garmin would be off that quarter of a mile for the rest of the race, which was really annoying, because I didn't know my overall pace.  It always showed it as much faster than we were actually doing.

I was having fun and having a great day, but I really just wasn't feeling it from almost the get go.  I kept thinking this just feels much harder than it should.  Within a few miles I had another terrible side stich and this time it was on my right side.  It just wouldn't go away, I had it until about mile 10. For the rest of the race it was off and on side stiches, I have no idea why, but they were so painful and the only thing that made them better was to walk a little longer than planned.  Even with the side stiches, the first half went by quickly. 
Millennium Park & "The Bean"

Somewhere during mile 12, we stopped for a bathroom break.  The porta potty lines were ridiculously long.  That's my one major complaint about this event, a bathroom stop shouldn't cost you a ton of time.  They needed far more porta pottys for 50,000 runners.  I normally wouldn't stop, but I kind of had to go and Coy really had to go, and I had  yet another side stitch so I thought the rest might do me some good.  The stop ended up costing us about 6 minutes and I knew I couldn't make that time way.  We ended up losing about 9 minutes over the course of the race for stops...oh well...I needed them anyways.  While I was at the porta potty though I checked in on Jim and saw that he was at about mile 18 and was having a fantastic race!

My friend Patrick was somewhere between mile 13 and 14 so after we passed the halfway point I started looking for him.  I finally saw him and stopped to take a quick picture.  That was pretty cool!  I so appreciate him coming down to watch for me.
Patrick snapped a pic of Coy & I coming down the street
Me & Patrick around mile 13.5 - one of my best friends from high school

Up to the half I was feeling "ok" and we were maintaining a good pace.  Other than our bathroom break at mile 12, we'd averaged 12 to 12:30 miles for the first half.  At the half marathon checkpoint I was at 2:45 - a 12:35 pace - spot on for a 5:30 finish.  But then it started getting really hard.  At mile 14, I was not feeling great.  It was warming up.  I was fighting the side stiches, the heat, and was starting to feel a little sick to my stomach.  At Mile 14 I had my first 14 minute mile. I thought if I stopped and walked a bit more I might feel better and be able to pick the pace back up. 

I checked my phone again, and saw Jim had finished.  He had set a huge new PR and BQ'd.  I knew he would be thrilled.  I was so happy for him.  I congratulated him and told him I was struggling a lot more than I'd like to be at just past mile 14.  After the extra rest in mile 14, I was able to pick the pace back up for mile 15 to a 12:38, but then they just got slower from there.  It was a bummer.  Honestly, I wasn't having that much fun and by mile 17 I just wanted to be done.  I remember thinking, and saying aloud to Coy that "9 more miles seemed like a punishment worse than death"....yes a little dramatic.  But at this point we are over 4 hours into the race.  It's 12:30 and the sun is directly overhead.  There is very little shade, and it feels pretty warm.  My next several miles were in the 14s.  I was trying to maintain my run/walk, but was doing more walking than I wanted to.  My legs felt fine, well conditioned, and ready to go...but my stomach and head would not agree.  Around mile 21 or 22 my legs started feeling it too.  Miles 22 and 23 were the slowest of the entire race with paces in the 15s.  I was really, really struggling.  Coy was amazing the entire time!  I felt so bad. I kept apologizing because I didn't want to ruin her race experience.  She can run sooo, soooo much faster than me, and I kept urging her to go on ahead, but she wouldn't budge.  She kept telling me it was hard on her too, but I really think she was just saying that to make me feel better.  She's a great friend.  She kept saying we came here to do this thing together and that's what we were going to do. 

Just one of the pics of Jim and I from the weekend
Even though I was slowing down big time, I kept thinking in my head maybe there was still a chance I could finish around 5:45 (which would be I thought at the time a 7 minute PR).  I had come into the race thinking I should easily be able to do 5:45, but with any luck and a great day I might be able to squeak out a 5:30-5:35.  Well, around mile 23 (I think) the 5:45 pace group passed us.  My heart sank.  I wanted to cry.  Coy said let's try to keep up with them, I bet we can, and for a minute I did....and then I realized, wait they started probably 5 minutes after even if I can keep up with them my finish time is going to be around 5:50 and I couldn't keep up with them.  Then my heart sank even more.  Not only was I not going to get the time I wanted, I finally realized my time was probably going to be even slower than my first marathon.  Major disappointment.

All I could think about was the Fox Valley 20 miler a few weeks ago.  I had such a great race.  I felt so wonderful.  I knew my hard training all summer was paying off....but here I was when it really mattered and I just didn't have it.  In my head, the entire time, I thought I had done a 5:52 at Disney.  I knew that was my time to beat.  I told myself to dig deep and do all I could.  Around mile 23 when I really started doing the math though I realized it would be impossible.  I'd have to do a 12 min pace those last few miles and it wasn't going to happen.  I guess I could have really given up then...just walked the rest of the way realizing it wasn't going to be a PR, but I pressed on and decided I was going to finish as strong as possible.  Miles 24 and 25 I managed a 14:30 pace...not great, but better than the 15s I was doing.  Mile 26 was a 13:30 and then my final .75 miles (my Garmin ended up saying I did 26.75 miles - off .25 from the start) was a 12:30 pace.  I was proud of myself for digging in those last few miles.

Shirt & Medal
We finally crossed the finish line.  My official finish time was 5:53.    Coy and I grabbed our medals and post-race snacks and quickly found a place to sit down and stretch out and locate our husbands.  We chatted a few minutes and then went out separate ways :(

I was disappointed, but happy at the same time.  I had just finished the Chicago Marathon - my 2nd marathon.  I had a friend by my side, and a husband waiting for me.  It was a good day.  I thought I had blown my PR...but I looked up my Disney time and it was actually 5:54.  I had a PR after all....a small one, but still a PR.  This made me feel a "little" better. 

I realize it's not all about time, but that was only a small part of the disappointment.  The biggest disappointment was the way I felt.  I had trained so well, had such a great race just a few weeks before and I expected so much more from myself.  It was so hard to enjoy the experience when I was fighting with the way I was feeling for most of the race.  I felt a little bit like the awesome race day experience I was expecting was stolen from me.  But it really wasn't.  I still had a wonderful time.

I found Jim and tried to be upbeat.  I was so happy for him and proud of him.  He has worked and trained his butt off all summer and he deserved such a great race.  I was congratulating him, but he wanted to talk about my race.  It wasn't long before the tears started flowing.  I tried to hold them back, but the disappointment and exhaustion of the day just took over.  I didn't let it last long.  I got it out and moved on.  We then walked the what seemed like 10 miles back to the hotel, though I think it was only about 3/4 of a mile.

Jim & I after the race, he'd already showered and changed

After I had stretched and took a minute to just sit down, I was shocked to realize it was already 3:30.  Holy crap, it had been a long day.  I jumped in the shower so we could go get some lunch/dinner.  We went to Giordano's for a famous "stuffed pizza".  It was delicious, but even after basically not eating the entire day, one piece was plenty.  We walked back to the hotel where I promptly passed out.  It would be up early again the next morning for a 7 am flight out of Chicago.
Who needs a plate when you are this hungry?

Overall, I can't say anything negative about the race itself (besides the very frustrating registration process).  It was truly amazing.  It was so well organized for an event of this size.  The volunteer and spectator support are like no race I have ever done before.  The views of the cities are spectacular.  The shirt is pretty decent, but I have to say the medal could use some improvement.  I've gotten nicer 5K medals here in Kansas City.  But, at the end of the day, the event is just unbelievable and one I would encourage everyone to put on their running bucket list.

We had a beautiful day to run with a cool start and light winds.  It might have gotten a little warm towards the end, but I don't think the temperature impacted me too much.  I'm really not sure what happened.  I guess that's the most frustrating part.  I ate well leading up to the race.  I ate the same thing for breakfast that I've eaten for months before my training runs and used the same race day nutrition that I've used on my training runs.  I trained well and did 3 20+ mile runs.   The only thing I can really account for is that I was sick all week.  I was taking allergy medication and using a nasal spray and maybe it impacted me more than I realized.  But I guess sometimes it doesn't matter how perfect the conditions, it's just not your day.
Coy & I running with the elites at the expo..we wish we were this fast :)

So, at the end of the day, I still did it.  I finished my 2nd marathon and with a 1 minute PR.  I got to have yet another wonderful experience with my husband.  I got to be there for him when he BQ'd again and set a new PR.  I got to run with my friend Coy.  Got to see an old high school friend.  And got to enjoy a great weekend in Chicago.  So there's really nothing to complain about right?  Nope, I guess not.

Did I own Chicago?  Probably not, but I still had a great time!

I had really hoped we'd get to meet up with Terzah while we were there, but we just couldn't seem to get timing right.  I do hope to meet her next summer when we are going to be in Colorado.

What an amazing experience overall.....I am one lucky girl!

If you want to see more pics, I have a ton posted on my personal FB page.  But don't forget to also like Slowly Tri-ing on FB too!


  1. Yay for a PR! Love all the fun pictures, glad you had a great time and have number 2 under your belt!

  2. Yay for a PR still! I'm so sorry for your tough race. That is really rough. You will definitely get your 5:30 if/when you decide to do another full.

    That medal is pretty ugly, but Chicago is definitely still on my bucket list.

  3. I think you did great! I feel guilty for stopping to pee!! HAHAHA! Seriously, I was walking around the house this morning thinking to myself "how much time did I cost Michael by peeing in the bushes in front of the zoo?!" As long as you PR'd that's all I wanted! The day was hot and whomever made the Gatorade mix must have not made it through math class because I had what you had. I've never had stomach issues like I did that day. : /

    Let's go pick out another one!!

    Maybe we should start a business helping races design new medals. We'll start with Chicago. I even told my husband that it almost felt like a weird pewter / plastic blend.

  4. Congratulations!! I know how it feels to feel good all through training and then crash on race day. You have every right to be upset, but girl.... YOU PRed!!!!!!!! That is awesome! Doesn't matter how big or small the PR was, its that you did, even when feeling the way you felt. Congrats again!!!

  5. I can understand your frustration, Michael. But I think you should know that very few people in the world actually manage to finish a marathon and that is already an amazing accomplishment in itself. I've had my streak of bad races as well, and my last marathon, for which I had trained the whole year, ended being the worst, for the same reasons as you. Sometimes you just can't explain it, but you have to take it as a lesson learned in perseverance. You trained hard, but you cannot control everything. In the end, I think even a minute PR is worth considering. I am again training for a marathon and while it may end up being the worst again, I, too, wish for a minute PR. Keep smiling, keep running. Xoxo.

  6. Great recap. You did very well at Chicago! Congrats!! And looks like you guys had a blast there. I am very jealous! I want to run this one now!

  7. First congratulations on your PR!! Even though the race did not go as planned, that is still a huge accomplishment. I HATE side stitches!!! You did awesome though!! Are you going to try to run it again next year??

  8. Forget everything else...a PR is a PR! It sucks to have an off race day, but it still sounds like you had a great day. And even more, it's a second marathon finish! That's more than a TON of people can say! (I've only done one!). You're a rock star in my book :)

  9. Congrats on your PR even though your race wasn't what you wanted it to be. I'm glad you got to experience the race, though!

    I agree, their medals aren't amazing BUT what it represents IS amazing- YOU ROCKED ANOTHER MARATHON!!!

  10. Congrats on the PR, even if it was a tough race. You left it till the very end, but being sick all week surely will put a dent in anyone's running times. I bet your struggles related solely to this. Seems like the medal has too much of the Bank of America sponsor logo on it - how about actually showing some the Chicago skyline or something? Giordano's is amazing though - I had that pizza when I was in Chicago in 2005.

  11. You did AWESOME. It not about the time anymore for me, its just that I have fun and enjoy the experience, sure it would be nice to run fast but I'm ok with just crossing the finish line with my running partner. We stay together the whole time. If one of us is having a bad marathon we cheer each other up at least were out here trying and not sitting on the couch. I just love all the nice people you meet and the encouragement everyone is giving you. Awesome PR GIRL. KEEP IT UP.

  12. What a wonderful, honest race report! My heart goes out to you - I've been there and done that on the disappointing races that I was totally trained for. My theory is that the crappy races make you appreciate the good ones even more, so imagine how great your next race will feel! :)

  13. First.....I want to shop with you. I find lots of things I can't live without and it would have been killing me to not be at that expo longer. But the Nike store would help. I love the small worldness of meeting Teresa. Very cool! I'm so sorry about how you felt. What a disappointment after all the training! You still finished and a PR is a PR. Congrats!
    And I am wondering just what voice the hotel clerk used to tell you the key was from a different hotel. I bet he/she laughed over that one. Almost as silly as running with a bike helmet.

  14. My computer is not letting me enter a comment on Jim's blog. Tell him congrats. It sounds like quite a day for him.

  15. So proud of you, Michael. Even though it was a tough day, you not only finished, but have a new PR! I've done Chicago twice, 2011 in extreme heat, which was slowest marathon and 2012 in perfect fall weather, which earned me a PR and one magical day! So glad I did the race a second time. I think that you and Jim need to go back next year and give it another shot. I am so glad I next time go with Lou Malnati's pizza! :-)

    Susan SRMS

  16. Ohhh, I so know what you're talking about with how you FEEL during the race being more important than the time. I had a similar experience last year where I spent the entire race considering giving up running because I felt so terrible, only to cross the finish line only a couple minutes slower than my PR. Of course, I know you trained for a bigger PR than a minute, but that had to confirm how right you were to keep pushing instead of giving in and walking the rest of the way in. Serious mental toughness that you'll draw on in another race.

    Congratulations on finishing your second marathon and on a shiny new PR!

  17. Ah, man. So bummed for you that things didn't go as planned. I was watching you and Jim all morning. If you are up for it you can come run the Grand Rapids Marathon with me on Sunday. We have a guest room you can have all to yourself. I can promise the medal will be better than Chicago's. :o)

  18. Aww. First: YOU PR"ed!!! At CHICAGO!!!
    The rest well it's just the after affects. I wonder if the allergy meds had a lot of sodium in them which could have made you feel off in general. I really wanted to spectate but by race week I knew I wouldn't be able to swing it. But I'm happy you and Jim got to experience my Chicago, my hometown. I need to go comment on his post but as someone who grew up here I don't necessarily see it the way visitors do so his post and yours has been really nice to bring that back to me.

  19. It was so fun to meet you two by chance in Chicago. You guys have great positive energy and you're even more adorable in person than on your blogs. I was insanely nervous the day before the race--our brief meeting gave me a nice little emotional lift. Man was race day tough! I trained really hard, but I was still totally unprepared for how hard the last few miles would be. And the hill into Grant Park at at the end? I seriously wanted to lay down and cry. Also, I agree with you about the medal--kind of cheesy. But I guess that means we have to do another one with a nicer medal, right? Portland, maybe? Newport? : )

  20. Congratulations. Congratulations on toughing it out, even though it really wasn't your day, and then PRing on top of that. (Now imagine it without the toilet breaks!)
    Story time: I did my first marathon in 6 hours and 18 minutes and was hoping to shave some time off at my second marathon the following year. What happened was basically a death march, as I felt off even before I started the race; there were huge bag-check queues, a long walk to the start point, I forgot a couple of gels, I'd never heard of Nuun, and the friend I was running with felt ill. Plus it was scorchingly hot and the longer we took the hotter it got! I ended up doing it in 6:30 - there was nothing pretty about it, and absolutely nothing to be proud of, just a death march with lots of walking - and to this day still don't count it among the marathons I've done. :) so yes, there will be other marathons... you know you have it in you!

  21. Sorry to hear it didn't go as well as hoped - but you still persevered and finished with a PR and that's success!
    I bet within a week you'll be looking around for another marathon so you can reach your goal - you know you can do it, and so do we!

  22. It's really hard to process all the emotions you feel when a race you invested so much time and energy just doesn't pan out. So many highs and lows. It never seems "fair", but on race day there are no guarantees. You're handling it great and that's important. You deserve time with your emotions and them you - but in the end, you did it and you gotta be proud at that. Carry what you've learned into the next marathon, and the next, and the next...

    Congratulations!! Very happy for you! :)

  23. YOU ARE A MARATHONER!!! No one can take that away from you! Well done! We learn from our not so good races and come back stronger for the next ones!

    I admit I was running a marathon on the other side of the world on Sunday (Melbourne Australia) and I did think of you and your husband running in Chicago...congrats to you both.

  24. Good job, focusing on the positive! Very inspiring :)

  25. Well done for pushing through a bad day and then still get a PR! Congratulations with your 2nd marathon finish! I've had plenty days like that and they just make you mentally much stronger for your next challenge. Rest well, you deserve it.

  26. Sorry things didn't go as planned, but congrats on your PR, and it sounds like you all had fun in Chicago. I've never up for your next race!

  27. Congratulations!!! You ran a freaking marathon and faster than your last one. I'm sorry it didn't go as planned, but you did a great job.

    Love all the pictures... especially love that you met Teresa - so cool.

  28. A PR is worth celebrating! Congrats to you (and to Jim). It sounded like a tough day out there, but your perspective is great--you had a friend by your side and a husband waiting at the finish. Things to be thankful for, for sure!

    See you in 5 weeks!

  29. My race was pretty awful too - there are just some things that you can't control and some days are not going to be great running days. But you finished despite feeling so awful and you got a PB so congratulations, that's awesome.

  30. Congrats on finishing your second marathon even though you didn't feel as well as you should have. Nice that you could share it with Jim and Coy. How crazy is that to meet Theresa almost all those people?

  31. Congrats on finishing Chicago and your 1 min PR! UGH to the weirdo side stitches! Like you said, it's so damn frustrating when you train your arse off and something like that happens :( But it sounds great that Coy was there, and you got to see people you knew and randomly meet Theresa!

  32. Finishing is a win....and let me tell you, a 1 minute PR is way better than a 30 second miss on a PR. I know this from experience. You are AWESOME!!!!!

  33. And I thought that "Micael owns Chicago" was a real bus shelter....yeah, I don't get out enough.

  34. Great job out there!!! Always impressed with someone who guts it out like you did :)

    Hope you're recovering well!

  35. Wheres the prerace dancing pictures? :)
    Sorry your race didnt go as you hoped, BUT you just did the CHICAGO marathon!!! Congrats for pushing thru, and for finishing with a PR!!! And, Id be willing to bet theres another one for you!! You trained hard for this one, and I can just imagine you wanting to try again!!