Everyone remembers their first time~~the anticipation, the planning; the fear of the unknown. For most people, the first time can be an exhilarating as well as an intimidating experience, but there is, of course, the sweet prize at the end; the glorious finish. There is a huge sense of relief, of satisfaction, and for most, at least some degree of pain. I’m talking, of course, about my first race—the 2013 Chicago Marathon!
As you might have read in an earlier post, I entered the world of running somewhat serendipitously. Now that I’ve started to share my experiences as a runner, I thought I would write a recap of that very first race. Call it naiveté—or maybe just plain stupidity—but I had no real fears going into the race. Despite the fact that I had never run, or that I only did some distance walking for the two to three months prior to the race, I felt very ready to take on the challenge.
Race weekend happened to coincide with my 25th wedding anniversary, adding to how special the weekend would be. Two of my boys were away at college at the time and were able to come in for the weekend. I made arrangements to spend the weekend in the city, with dinner at one of my favorite steakhouses on Friday night, and then the obligatory carb-load at an Italian restaurant on Saturday night. The predicted weather for Sunday morning was perfect by most runners’ standards~~upper 40s at the start, and lower 60s by the time I would finish. That seemed little too chilly for my inexperienced tastes.
We checked in at the hotel on Friday afternoon. There were people everywhere, and such an exciting energy could be felt! Insider’s tip: If you ever stay at the Chicago Hilton (the official race headquarters hotel), be sure to sign up for the Hilton Honors program prior to your arrival. There is no cost to join, and being a member allows you to check in at the Hilton Honors desk and avoid the ridiculously long lines at the regular check-in desk. They might even float you a room upgrade or late checkout. Another tip: If you are driving in, don’t pay the outrageous parking fees at the hotel (upwards of $60/day). You can find spots just a block or two away on Spot Hero for less than half that price!
After check-in we headed outside and walked north on Michigan Avenue to enjoy the sights and sounds of our great city on what was a beautiful fall day. We headed to Sullivan’s Steakhouse for dinner, and once again, they did not disappoint. After dinner, someone came around taking photos. Not wanting to pay, I declined, only to find out they were taking them for free. Too embarrassed to change my mind, I had them take a picture of just the boys~~what a great family picture this would have been had I not been so cheap! Since I wasn’t looking to break any world records, I took the opportunity to relax and enjoy a nice glass (or two) of wine. Sullivan’s is located in the River North area, one of my favorite areas of the city. We walked along the river and snapped a few more photos.
On Saturday morning, I ran though Millennium Park for my scheduled 2-mile “shakeout run”. There were so many marathoners running through the park, the excitement was tangible. After lunch we headed to the McCormick Place Convention Center for the expo and packet pickup. The lines were long for the buses from the hotel, but they moved very quickly and it was fun to be part of the camaraderie with everyone going to the same place. The signage at McCormick Place was clear, making the big facility easy to navigate.
First Stop: Packet pickup (well, bathroom, but then packet pickup). This is getting real, folks! We headed to the back of the convention hall with more quick-moving lines. All of the people working the lines were friendly and helpful, offering runners their congratulations and words of encouragement. Participants had the opportunity to exchange shirts if the size wasn’t right, which turned out to be a needed option for me.
Next Stop: The Nike Pace Team booth. I had no idea what I was doing! I decided I could probably (possibly?) finish in 5 hours. While waiting in line, I started talking with a 5:25 pacer. We discussed my lack of running experience, and he convinced me that a 5 hour finish was probably unrealistic, and that maybe 5:25 was a better first-time goal. I then said I thought I should join the 5:25 combined run-walk pace team since I didn’t think I could run the full marathon, but he was quick to convince me otherwise. He said, “think about it—we will both finish in 5:25, but if they’re walking for one minute, then those other four minutes, they will have to run faster to make up the time. I’ll be doing a consistent run the whole time, so we will be running slower overall. Just stick with me and I’ll get you through”. This made perfect sense to me, and I believed him.
That evening, we headed to Maggiano’s Little Italy, also in the River North area of the city. Yes, it’s somewhat chain-restaurant-ish, but the food is good, the serving sizes are plentiful, and the service is great. We stopped at Macy’s on State Street (a must if you are a tourist!) after dinner, and were surprised to find a small section of official Nike marathon gear, for which they accepted my 40% off coupons (Macy’s no longer accepts coupons for these items). The mile walk back to the hotel in the crisp night air felt great after such a filling and enjoyable meal.
Race Morning: Awake at 4:45 a.m., I had no idea what to do! What do I eat? My usual breakfast consists of a liter of water followed by about a gallon of coffee. I thought something a little more substantial was called for. I popped a handful of almonds in my mouth and headed down to the lobby to grab something more. Another long line, but again—it moved fast. I bought a muffin and a banana and scarfed them down. Good enough—I didn’t want to overdo it and stress out my GI tract as I embarked upon the unknown.
The boys were all still sleeping as my husband walked me outside to see me off. It was freezing out there! I forgot to bring a throw-away garment, so I ‘borrowed’ a towel from the hotel (hey, if you’re going charge twice the normal nightly rate for marathon weekend…I don’t feel so bad…). I also wore my Nike men’s basketball sleeves on my arms—they kept me warm during the cold early morning temperatures, and I was able to roll them down around my wrists as the weather got warmer.
I met up with my pacer, who was wearing a big garbage bag to stay warm during the pre-race. He looked pretty goofy…as did the hundreds of other runners wearing them. But hey–whatever works! We were all chatting it up and came to find out this was our pacer’s 259th marathon. I had to believe he knew what he was doing! I decided to stick with him like white on rice. I popped my earbuds in but didn’t turn the music on just yet so I could hear the announcements and talk with the people around me. As a matter of fact, I was so caught up in the race, I never turned my music on, but I ran the entire race with the earbuds in my ears! Since this race, I have never again run with music—instead deciding to enjoy the sounds of life around me.
Just before 8:00 a.m. the crowd of anxious runners started moving forward. Showtime! It’s something to behold—watching all the runners strip their layers in the early minutes of the race. A word to the wise: Tread lightly! Runners dump their clothing as well as their gear for at least the first several miles of the course, and I saw several people trip and fall.
Miles 1 – 2: This may not seem like much to talk about, but it was a big deal to me. Albeit slowly, I couldn’t believe I had actually just run two miles! I had literally never run a full mile in my life! And I felt great…and so excited to see my family as we rounded the curve! I’m sure they were just as surprised as I was to see me running…and smiling, to boot!
Miles 2 – 7: These were relatively uneventful, except by Mile 4 I really had to pee! The lines were ridiculously long at the first porta-potties, and once I found out my pace group wasn’t going to wait for me (what?), I pushed through until about Mile 7, when I finally had to stop and make my bladder gladder. That was a better decision, as there were only a couple of people in line, and I was in and out pretty quickly and was able to pick up my pace and catch up with my group.
Miles 7 – 13: By this point I got past my disbelief that I was actually running. I was trying not to put too much thought into it, and just kept going. I started to see people in my group drop back, some even stopping and sitting on the curb. The pacer just kept going, and encouraging me to run. He kept saying, “c’mon, girl, you got this!”; the only magic words I needed to hear.
Miles 13 – 22: Of course I loved running through Boystown (how can you not?), but these miles brought us through Greektown, Little Italy, Pilsen, and Chinatown. These were my favorite parts of the race—especially Pilsen, because I grew up in the area next to Pilsen, and it felt like being home again. I loved how these areas of the city reflected some of the many different cultures that make this city so great.
Miles 22 – 25: Still plugging along, I was starting to get a little unnerved about how many in our group fell behind, with some dropping out all together. I stopped to pee somewhere around Mile 17, and by Mile 25 I really had to go again. But this time I knew if I stopped, I would never catch up with my group, and I was determined to stick with my pacer. So here I am giving a thumbs-up to my family at Mile 25, that serious look on my face being one of determination not just to finish, but to finish without peeing my pants!
Miles 25 – 26: Wow! just about two more miles to go. This is where the crowd got very loud again, and so many people were shouting, “you got this”…”you didn’t come this far to stop now”…no I didn’t! I knew I would finish…but would I finish with my pace group? My pacer had gotten ahead of me, but I always kept him in sight. I didn’t want to sprint to catch up with him, because I knew this far into it I could push too hard and run out of steam. So I just kept going…and going…and going!
The Finish: Holy. Cow. I completed the marathon with an official finishing time of 5:24:58. Yep…just 2 seconds under pace time! I seriously felt amazing! Here I am with the two pacers in my group…my main man Tom on my left (who came in at 5:24:28), and Dom on my right (who came in at 5:24:30). Once through the finish line, I separated from the pacers, grabbed my well-deserved ice cold beer, and called my best friend to tell her for the first time, that I had signed up for and just completed the Chicago Marathon. She of course didn’t believe me, and it took a few photos to convince her I was telling the truth. Hey, I’m no liar, but I sure can keep a secret!
Long post and lots of pictures, but hey~~I don’t ever want to forget my very first time!
How did you get into running? Do you remember your first race? What is your favorite race distance?