This is what happened – Chicago Marathon 2011

“The rewards of running a marathon can not be found on a stopwatch”

I started behind a guy whose t-shirt read that.  I read it, pondered it, thought it was a really good message, actually considered turning my Garmin off right then and there.

I didn’t.  Duh.

Let’s rewind 30 minutes.  The corrals close at 7:20, apparently this year they became Nazis and CLOSED the corrals at 7:20.  I got there at 7:21, I was forced to start in the 13 minute per mile group.  Hugely inconvenient.

The first two miles were spent expending copious amounts of energy trying to pass 13 minute per mile runners.  These runners tend to run in pairs, threes, or fours.  They are an indestructible wall of 13 minute per mile humans that are impossible to pass.  So much time wasted, because I was ONE minute late to the corral closing.

When I finally caught up to runners with 4:30 pace stickers on their backs, all was good.  I was running, taking in the view, right, left, right, yadda, yadda, yadda.  I stopped at the second aid station for some Gatorade knowing that the heat would continue to rise.  It was already hot, I had wiped sweat off of my forehead by mile 3.  I then stopped at the third and fourth aid station for more Gatorade.  I wanted to be plenty hydrated, that’s reasonable, right?

Oh, HEY, remember my recap from last year, when I said I got a warm Gatorade bellyache?  History repeats itself.  My stomach started doing its churning-cartwheel-magic tricks again.  By mile 10 I was trying to walk off a Gatorade bellyache.  There was three porta-potty stops soon after.

As soon as I realized it was the Gatorade, AGAIN, I stopped taking it and only took water.  Somewhere after mile 13 my stomach began to cooperate.  But fear of how my stomach would react to anything prevented me, yet again, from fueling well.  Before mile 13, I honest-to-blog considered just DNF’ing because of just how completely shitty I felt.  This was my thought:

“I feel like shit and it’s hot out.  I could DNF, healthy, and just do Rails to Trails Marathon in 4 weeks and it’ll be way cooler out, I won’t have to weave in and out of 20,000 people, and I probably won’t feel like shit.  Is this worth it?  I’m having such a rotten time.  I hate everything about this.”

I honestly don’t know why I kept going.  Mentally I had quit.

Mile 13-16 was a delirious, frustrating run/walk blur.  Hate, stab, etc.

I remember feeling comforted by the mile 17 marker.  Seventeen seemed safe, like I was already invested in this race, so just keep moving.  Plus I had grown a bloated taper gut in the last two weeks, 26.2 miles would surely correct that.

After mile 17, the mile markers are a blur, but I do remember entering Chinatown.  This is my favorite part of this asshole race.  Before you enter Chinatown you’re running on what seems to be a quiet, forever stretch, and you turn and LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA there’s all this ruckus, cheer, and visually it’s just very cool.


I also remember thinking somewhere after mile 17, “Just a few more miles until I find Speedy”   Speedy, is Josh, or better known as @SpeedySasquatch on twitter who said he would run with me for a bit at mile 23.  He’s been ridiculously helpful with my knee injury from the beginning of knee injury.  Running with him would be the icing on the sliver of Chicago Marathon cake.

When I approached mile 23, I took my ear buds out and scanned the crowds.  Nothin.  No Speedy.  My heart sank, my legs got heavier.  I put my ear buds back in and did some more heatstroke prevention walking.  Something on my Garmin motivated me to start running again, so I did, and I finally spotted my marathon angel, Speedy.  I ran up to him, “I NEED YOU”


I wasn't going to include this photo that Speedy took of me, but Diana said it right, "it wasn't pretty, but you did it"

Speedy, was, well, speedy, and hopped right onto the course.  He did most of the talking, I gave occasional nods to cue my still being alive.  He kept telling me I’m doing awesome, told me I’m running like a metronome.  When we passed through an aid station he told me to keep running down the middle and he would be right back, he would reappear with 2 water cups, one to dump down my back, and one to dump on my head.  Speedy is genuinely the nicest, supportive human being I know.  If I started to slow down, he’d grab my arm and tell me nope, keep going.

Speedy took me as far as he could get without getting into trouble by race officials, he took me to where I had 800 meters to go.  The 800 meters to go sign is at the bottom of an unfortunate hill at this point in the race.  It took a lot of effort not to crawl up the hill.  At the top of the hill I walked a few steps, looked at my stopwatch.  Shit, no time to waste, GO.

Then I finished a marathon that I quit mentally at on mile 13.

I finished a marathon that I wasn’t sure that I could even do because I couldn’t walk my dog around the block without knee pain.

It’s too bad I wasn’t still behind the guy with the shirt at the starting line.  But his shirt did make me consider what was rewarding about this training cycle.

It was rewarding to have the ability to DO IT, to BE ABLE to train for it, in January I couldn’t run 1 painless mile.  I met Dean Karnazes, Speedy, Kristin and Jon at the expo, I spent the weekend with my good friends Tara and Matt, I laughed my ass off at Mr. HappyPace driving through downtown Chicago traffic and threaten stabbings.

The biggest reward was that for the first time I got to do the bird attacking.


37 thoughts on “This is what happened – Chicago Marathon 2011

  1. I thought about you on Sunday when I did my 10 mile run in that heat. What is it with the Chicago Marathon and unseasonable warm temperatures? Crazy! I’m so sorry the rece didn’t go as planned, but way to go on sticking it out and finishing it!! Congrats!!

  2. Hey…not all races can be amazing, that would be just plain boring! But really, you did an awesome job of forcing your way through 13 miles after you had mentally given up! Great job! 🙂

  3. Thanks for sharing and congrats on gutting it out. For sure during any marathon there will be easy miles and hard miles. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut during a race when things are not going well. Way to have the fortitude to hang in there.

  4. Ahh man…that stinks. But run on and carry on. If I can keep running after Le Disaster that was the Pittsburgh Maraton…anyone can.
    And at this point, I have no desire to run Chicago…I have yet to hear any ‘great’ things about it.

  5. WOW! You give me hope, lady. I start physio tomorrow for the runner’s-knee/bad-strain/possible-tear damage I did myself running injured for The Run for the Cure. 10 months from painful dog-walking to a full-on marathon? You ROCK!

    • The last time I saw my good doctor, I asked if I would have to deal with runner’s knee for the rest of my life, she said, “Not if you get really, really strong”. Those words stuck, maybe they’ll help you too. Get really, really strong.

      • I have/had knee issues too (and ankle in highschool). I had to quit running all together for 8 months or so about a year ago. I dawn instead. a lot. and I can’t swim. I’m the fork with the nose plugs.

        But I’ve finally figured out how to train my body. I only run 3-4 times a week, every other day. I try to cross train in between, only now am I getting better at making that happen.

        Changing my shoes helped to. I was using the same style I’d been useing since highschool when I had really bad ankles. I don’t have that problem anymore, so going to a much less rigid shoe has helped.

        Experiment with your training till you hit the right rhythm. Then you can get all Strengthy.

      • I should probably register for it, seeing as how I’ve been training for it for the past two months. I’m not going for a goal, I’m just doing it to keep ky training up. if I don’t have a race, its hard to keep running in the winter.

  6. What number marathon was this for you? Congrats on finishing! I think that’s HUGE! ….dang it, I got distracted 30mins ago and don’t know what else I was going to say. :-/ How dumb am I? But congrats again, Steena!

  7. Well NOW I can see how you were so disappointed on Sunday! I still think you did great, but holy cow, what an obstacle to overcome being in the wrong corral over 1 minute.

  8. congratulations on finishing!!! remember how HUGE it is that you finished another marathon no matter how rough it was!

    ugh, and i’d be pissed about the corral thing too. how annoying that you had to deal with that over one minute!

  9. Everything I hear about Chicago reassures me that I never want to run Chicago. That’s a hell of a start corral policy. Nonetheless, nice job sticking it out through a handicapped start and challenging reaction to the Gatorade. For a race you mentally gave up on half way through, making it to the finish line is a huge accomplishment. Enjoy the finish, chase more pigeons, and focus on what’s next. Best of luck!

  10. Wow, sounds like quite an experience! It must have been a real struggle to start suffering only halfway through the race. But, at the end of the day, you finished a marathon. It’s a huge accomplishment, even if you didn’t finish the way you might have wanted. Congratulations!

  11. You always amazing and inspire me! To YOU this was a bad race. To me? I see a woman who completed 13 miles more after she wanted to quit. I personally think this race was a triumph. A weaker person would have DNF’d miles before.

  12. Fuhhhhhhhhk. Girl – you are really, really strong. Not just in body, but in mind too. Congrats on bullying through your walls and crossing that finish line. At least now you’ll have one to compare against for your next training session – repeat after me: “No matter what happens, it can’t be worse than Chicago, right? I lived through Chicago, I’ll get through this.”

  13. Oooh, story I just remembered. My friend once couldn’t find parking for the NJ marathon, ended up being like, 5-10 minutes late to the start of the race. She was balling when she started and it was a few miles before she even caught the first runners. So…even if the corral thing sucked, at least you didn’t miss the start!

  14. Since I’m not even sure I’ll do a HALF marathon again, I hardly feel worthy enough to comment. But I just have to say, YOU ROCK. I hope you are feeling better about your accomplishment. It’s not just what you did Sunday, its what you did every day since the last marathon that got you to Sunday and beyond.

  15. I cannot (or maybe can) imagine how disappointed you must be. But: how many years have you been running and competing before you ran your first, second, and third marathon? You see what I am getting at? Many, many runners are not able to go that distance after such a brief time. Keep going!

  16. I am so sorry your stomach acted up that way. I am sure it was very difficult to continue on like that. Congrats on finishing. I got your comment on my blog and it’s definitely hard to not compare oursleves to others. But we will be better off just focusing on our own positives.

  17. confession, I once “dropped out” of a marathon half way, well, more I bailed out, and it was more a mental thing than anything, I regret it, because I gave in, and what I realise now is that was more important than than time, not giving into myself!!
    Congrats on not giving in, I grantee with that kind of attitude you’ll be hitting the times you want eventually! 🙂

    p.s same for me with gatorade and also powerbar iso drink, makes me hurl and I flake out, big mistake taking some in at Ironman Switzerland…pukkeee!!

  18. Im sorry I’m late to comment and I’m sorry you didn’t have the race you wanted. What is it with Chicago being so WARM the past several years?
    However, you still ran a freakin’ marathon girl! And your body held up for it! You should be so proud! You put in the training and covered the miles. I’m proud of you!!!

  19. Girlfriend. Hi. I just read this again. Was it not ONE YEAR AGO when you jumped on the train for that second marathon because you wanted nothing more in the whole world than to break “X hours”? And isn’t that exactly what you did in Chicago? Think of how you would’ve felt a year ago about this race. Probably ecstatic about the finishing time. Sure, yes, you trained this summer and expected better, but put it in perspective. You say you are going to quit once you have ONE “good” marathon (which I totally think you shouldn’t, but I digress…), but what’s “good”? That’s so relative. What’s good last year, isn’t good now. What’s good now may not be good next year. Take what you learned from this experience and apply it to your next race. It’s all you can do. You can name off any number of reasons why this didn’t go as planned — the “slow” people in your way, the warm Gatorade, the temperatures — but at the end of the race, it’s what you take away from the experience and make of it. You ran a marathon, and that’s fantastic. I’m glad you were able to find some of those good parts in this race. However, I’ve gotta stand up for those 13-minute pace people. Sure, it was probably a pain in the ass to weave through them and all their glory, but don’t hate on ’em. They’re doing the same thing. A marathon is a marathon no matter the pace. Some people put in more work, some people do it faster, some people take it more seriously, but everybody’s doin’ their thing. And it’s all mostly awesome. /

    • I think I’d need to write an entire new post to respond to this. But… Ok, I’m over the time thing, but the lingering disappointment I have is that I didn’t enjoy the experience, I felt like shit for a huge portion of it. My actual goal was to have a happy finish photo. The “one more time” thing is really based on the permanent damage in my knee cartilage. Runners knee is a bitch. And I didn’t mean to come off as hating on the 13 min per mile group, it was just very difficult to maneuver around them! 🙂 next time I’ll have to borrow your unicorn!

      Sent from my iPhone

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