Chicago Marathon: The Race


I was walking to the Gate where my coral was located.  I followed the St. Jude crowd and as we all began to split off to go to our designated coral’s, I started really thinking strategy.  I hadn’t really let myself go there.  I was winging it after all.  And a person winging a marathon doesn’t think strategy, they think survival.  I didn’t train at my goal pace, I trained to finish.  So, I went back and forth with how to mentally go into this race.  Because yes, it takes physical strength and conditioning to run 26.2 miles, but it’s really mostly mental.  Trust me.  So, my dilemma was do I go with a pacing strategy, or a mental one?

What I mean by that is do I segment the race into parts with certain attainable paces for each one based on my current conditioning and hope my body responds?  Or, do I go in with more of a strategy for how to keep myself mentally in the game and enjoy the experience,  and just let my pace fall wherever it happens to land.  I wasn’t sure.

I went with the latter.  So, as I’m walking to my coral, trying to collect my thoughts, I saw a girl.  This girl..


I turned to take a picture of the Gate number (because I’m a giant dork and had clearly decided taking pictures was more fun than thinking strategy) when I saw the girl in the white and blue capri’s with the black top.  See her?  You guys, she was bawling.

She had just hugged some friends who were also running, they wished her luck and she started walking in tears to her coral.  I went back to talk to her and it turns out she had trained with a group of girls, and they had them in different corals.  They were super strict with everyone staying where they belonged, and she was terrified to run alone.  It was so not her plan and starting this journey by herself was terrifying.  I can relate.

I talked to her for a bit and tried to encourage her.  I’ve run all 3 marathons alone and I assured her she could do it, because she could.  And I’m sure she did.  We hugged(because again, stupid strangers who all sign up and pay to run for an eternity together hug after only knowing each other for 5 minutes.  It’s what we do.  Before we all go stand in line for the porta potty’s together).  I know she had to have rocked her day.

Anyway, I walked to my coral where I had yet another hour to stand and ponder.  And take pictures.  And listen to all the stories of the runner’s around me.  I was sad.  I was so wishing Candace was there with me, for her as much as for me.  I hated she was missing it.  But again, I knew God had purpose in that for us both.  Even though it may be hard to see it all now.


We eventually made it to the start.  We were off.  Oh, and in case you were wondering what I decided my strategy to be?  Enjoy the race.  First half by time, second half by feel.  It was a solid strategy.  Until my GPS didn’t work.  It then became a little by time, some by feel, and mostly for fun.


The first 8 miles flew by.  There were so many people.  Like we were celebrities.  All of the spectator’s seemed so proud of us.  Like genuinely.  It was as if all of Chicago lined the streets to cheer us on and make us feel like we were doing something no one had ever done before.  It was amazing and took my breath away.  That and I had to pee.  Bad.  I knew going in thanks to all the awesome advice from all my friends on social media, that the porta pottie’s would be slammed the first 8-10 miles.  I thought I could make it to the half way point so I kept pushing.  I ran non stop the first 10, afraid if I stopped I’d lose momentum.


I had no idea what my pace was because our watches didn’t work, but I knew it was comfortable.  Maybe mid 10’s.  My heart rate stayed low.  It felt easy and I just decided it was right where I needed to be.  Don’t push it.  Stay mentally strong and it’ll help you later.  So keep the pace easy.  Finally at mile 10 I literally could not keep going so I stopped to pee.  The lines!! It took 10 minutes(my pace was all over the place because of the GPS but my time worked, so I at least knew how long I’d been running and how long my stops were) to get back on the course after the bathroom stop because of the lines.  While standing in line I got a giant cramp in the bottom of my foot.  It worked itself out as I ran but soon after my Achilles really started bothering me.


Leave it to race day to bring up completely unforseen issues that you have never experienced during training.  My plan was to stay mentally in the game.  Don’t get derailed regardless of what my body does.  So, I switched my plan up a bit.  I decided an Achilles that feels like its’ about to snap isn’t something to mess around with.  I did NOT want to walk away from this race with an injury that would keep me from running for weeks or months, I have goals ya know?   So, I slowed my pace, took some walk breaks and decided to keep taking in the sights and the smells(some disgusting, and then there were donuts from a local bakery that smelled like absolute torture).  We passed the Moody Church where they were blasting the song Overcommer.  I cried.  So dumb but the marathon, it makes you emotional.


We went through Old Town and to my right, a girl on the St. Jude team who was running while undergoing chemo.  I cried again.  Geez.  Get it together.  I was solid the rest of the way, promise.


So on and on we went through the streets of Chicago.  My Achilles still hurting but my mind was sharp and the rest of me felt great.  Once we passed the half way point I knew my pace would slow down to protect my heel, which was fine.  I was smiling and loving the energy of Chicago.


I focussed on what I was thankful for and seriously, the blue line. I had been told to stick close to it because if you didn’t, you’d likely run closer to 27 miles.  Um.  No thank you.


It gave me something to think about at least.  As I approached the 17-18 mile area we were running through some huge crowds and lots of activity.  I had my head phones in for a bit during the very few lul’s but every time I put them in I’d end up taking them out so I wouldn’t miss anything.  Suddenly I heard someone call my name.  I turned thinking surely they weren’t calling me, I know NO ONE here and there are thousands of spectators and runner’s.  I look over and sure enough it’s a friend from Instagram, Scott.


It was so nice to see someone who knew who I was, in the sea of all the people.  We talked for a sec and I said thank you and took a picture and took off.  Thanks again Scott!! It was such a boost.  As I got closer to 20 I had slowed down, which was a little frustrating because mentally and physically I felt better than I ever had at this point in the race.  It was just my stupid Achilles.


At that point I had gotten my phone out and I was just holding it(it’s an iphone 6+, so I was basically running with a lap top)  because I was in it for the pictures at this point.  Still having fun, but moving slow.  I was somewhere around the 20 mile mark.  People were walking, medic tents were filling.  It was hot.  The sponges had come out and the walking had picked up.  To be running at this point was to be in the minority.  I know because physically, I felt great.  I had fueled well and was well hydrated.  I just had a lot of pain in my heel.  So I guess I was paying more attention to what was going on around me, because I was far less miserable than I had ever been at mile 20.

I looked over to my right and saw a girl, sitting cross-legged on the side of the course in tears.  I started to run past her but I couldn’t.  I just knew I had to stop, not because I’m some hero or something special you guys, but because I have been her.  Last year I tackled an impossible training program and set myself up for a 4-4:15 finishing time.  My body fell apart on race day, and at mile 14 when I saw my tribe, I came unglued.  I just could not deal.  I wasn’t in it mentally or physically and I saw months of hard work going down the drain.  Or at least that’s how I saw it at the time.  Since then, I’ve learned a little more about this distance and it’s demands.  You have to respect it for what it is.  Unpredictable.  Hard.  Intense.  Mentally draining.  Challenging.  Life changing.  You have to know going in that anything can happen in 26.2 miles of running, and be ready for that.  But it’s taken 3 marathons to get me there.

So, when I saw Monica, I went to sit by her and make sure she was ok, wasn’t hurt etc.  One of the first words out of her mouth broke my heart….shame.   The race wasn’t going the way she had planned, and she was ashamed.  Gosh I could relate more than she knew.  I’d been there.

But one thing I’ve come to accept.  There is ZERO shame in doing something brave.  When you step out and do something hard, regardless of how fast or slow, it’s brave.  It’s not something to feel shame over and all I wanted was for her to see that.  To feel proud that she had already run 20 freaking miles on a world-class marathon course in front of thousands of spectators and all of Chicago.  It was way cool, and I didn’t want her to miss that.  And maybe my trainer came out and I didn’t want to see her quit either.  So, I told her to get up and we’d tackle this thing.  Final 6.2 miles.  Let’s do this.


We started talking about goals and that this was her first marathon.  Ugh.  Her first!!!!! I didn’t want her experience to mirror mine because this thing is something to soak up.  So, we smiled for the camera’s, faked it til we made it.  We talked about life and the fact that…..wait for it…the friend that had talked her into running Chicago had lost her mom two weeks before.

My hair stood on end.

I got a little choked up as I told her that my training partner lost her dad this past week.  It was meant to be.  I had no doubt in that moment we were supposed to be running together.  I had been the struggling runner, I had been the lonely runner, and I had been the hurt and mentally over it runner.  I had prayed going into this that God would give me enough in my tank to give away.  And He did.

Encouraging Monica got me through that final 6 miles, more than likely kept me from injury as I had just decided(right before I saw her) to go for it(the sub 5 finishing time) regardless of what it did to me post race, and reminded me of why I continue to tackle this crazy distance over and over again.

It’s the people.

It’s doing something great and hard and brave with all of these other people.  Everyone has a story.  A journey to the starting line, lessons learned through all the miles of training.  Reasons why they run.

I don’t run to be skinny.

I don’t run to win.

I don’t run to brag.

I don’t run to escape(well sometimes I do, come on now)

I run for me and for the sense of accomplishment.  I run for the community.  I run for the setting of goals and the humility that comes when you don’t meet them.  Because I’d rather fail from trying than not try at all.  I run to see what my body is capable of because one day, I may lose this ability.

There are so many reasons I run and race.  But those 6 miles or so with Monica reminded me how important it is to see people.  Hurting people.  Happy people.  People with stories.  We so often miss all of this because we fail to look up.  We put our heads down, just like most do at mile 20 of a marathon, and we forge ahead totally oblivious to the people and lives of those around us.  And we miss so much cool stuff.

We miss relationships and sweaty hugs and stories.  We miss opportunities to encourage total strangers and to be encouraged by them in return.  So let’s not ok?  Let’s look up.  I can’t imagine my Chicago experience without Monica’s company during those last 6 miles.  I got to coach and talk, two things I love to do.   I got to put all my crappy marathon experiences somewhere good, and I was able to walk away from this race having said a very peaceful goodbye to this distance for a while.  It’s time to get faster, a bit stronger, and focus more on family and a little less on training long distances.  It’s time for half marathon’s and 10k’s people.  Those are perfectly awesome distances and exactly where I need to shift my focus.

So we crossed the finish line together.  Hugged it out, and smiled for the camera’s.  And hobbled to our medal’s that were light years away.  It’s a day I’ll never forget.


3 marathon’s in 18 months has given me an appreciation for hard things.  An insane appreciation for a healthy body that allows me to do what I love.  Opportunities to meet some amazing people and go to some incredible places.  I’m so beyond thankful for this sport, and perhaps have more of a love for it than ever.  So happy running today friends.  I hope your feet take you to some awesome places and that in the process, you stop to look up.

Can't wait to break these puppies in after Chicago!!!!!! It's onto shorter distances and speed. Pretty sure these will help. Thanks to @fitapproach they are decked out and ready to rock breast cancer awareness month. Also, I'm talking about my race week thoughts today #ontheblog. Link in bio. #sweatpink #sauconyisotriumph #blogger #fitnessblogger #marathonmonday #chicagomarathon #chicago2015




44 comments on “Chicago Marathon: The Race

  1. SO proud of you for this accomplishment, but more proud of how well you loved and inspired along the way! God is so good. I agree these are amazing pics.
    Really blessed to be able to share your experience with you! We created such fun memories together! XO -T

  2. Gosh I love this. The two half marathons I ran were so mental! It took me by surprise. And both times I had such horrible recovery with cramping and chills for the whole day. But I love how you changed the outlook on enjoying the run and SEEING the people. If I ever run another half I’m totally going in with this outlook. Love your posts!! And congrats on your accomplishment!!

  3. hey Mindy! You are so sweet to have thought about me and prayed! Thank you. Means so much and girl, DO CHICAGO!!!!!!! It was amazing. I’d do it again in a heart beat!!

  4. Congrats on a great finish! I prayed for you last week 🙂 So glad you were able to run the race, what powerful stories along the way! I am contemplating the Chicago Marathon in 2016, exciting but scary!

  5. Kel, so proud of you and the difference you made in people’s lives last weekend! U r right! So many people look down or away but u made the choice to SEE people and STOP and make a difference. The fact God put them in your path is only one more reason why u needed to be there! So proud to know ya!

  6. I am looking to running my first half marathon November 22nd of this year. I have been training and taking things slowly and working my miles up only to fall and hurt my hip. Long story short I have a hip/groin pull and will not be able to run the pace i was hoping – but have decided to do it anyway – slowly! Your blog has so inspired me to realize that the race isn’t abut me – it’s about the course and who I may meet out there – it’s about the journey – it’s about accomplishment of finishing. Thank you – this was a wonderful read!

  7. Kelly, I am so proud of you!! What a beautiful and encouraging story! I’m not sure I will ever have what it takes to do a full marathon but I hope to at least make a half this April. I’m kind of terrified at the thought, seeing as how I don’t consider myself much of a runner. As I read your blog though, it literally makes me want to jump up and just run like “I’ve got this!” You have such a gift of being a light and encourager to others and God is definitely using you! Love you!

  8. Oh my gosh, I’m just sitting here crying reading this. I love every word of it and especially how you encouraged these different ladies. What a gift you were to them and what a gift God gave you as you looked up and SAW people’s needs in Chicago. Wow!!! I’m so proud of you Kelly! You’re doing great!!!!

  9. thanks Kelsey! I still can’t believe she found the post, it’s insane! But so cool too how God is in those details. We couldn’t have planned this out if we had tried=) Thanks sweet girl!!

  10. ha! It is emotional right?! Crazy how something like that can bring up so much. Thanks for your sweet words, and I’m so wishing we had met too, but one day!! Thanks for reading and congrats on a great finish on Sunday! You should be so proud!!

  11. thanks Sabrina!! Isn’t it crazy! I sat at my kitchen table reading through comments this morning when I saw THE ONE. I was already crying and that just put me over the edge!!!! xoxo And yes, during your half don’t forget to enjoy it! You will rock it girl!!!

  12. thanks girl!!! I’m so proud of YOU!!!!!!!! What a great race for you!! And thank you, the pics are just so fun to take. I got totally distracted!!!!haha

  13. Kelly! This post was amazing! I screen shotted one of your paragraphs so I can remember what you said! Congratulations on finishing another marathon! I’m fairly certain you ran this race just as Jesus would have! So incredible that the girl in the blue pants found you!

  14. More crying! I’ve been crying since the race and this just got me going all over again! You have, yet again, said it all so perfectly. It is crazy how emotional running a marathon can make you and I’m thankful that you have such a beautiful, truthful way of putting it all into words. It was a whirlwind weekend and I’m sorry we didn’t have a chance to meet you 🙁 but so glad to hear your experience ended up being an amazing one and thank you so much for sharing!

  15. Oh my gosh!!! I started crying as I was reading the post and now I’m crying harder after reading the comments!!!! I love the community of runners!!!! So encouraging and so inspiring!!!! I’m going to remember this as I’m running my first half-I’m going to remember to look up and to be present!!!

  16. Your pictures are INCREDIBLE!!

    Congrats on your 3rd marathon in 18 months! I’m so glad you were able to have a good experience this time…well deserved!!

    This story and you meeting Monica gives me chills…definitely meant to be!!

  17. thanks sweet friend. So blessed to know you. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, God is in the details and this is definitely showing it=)

  18. Absolutely beautiful! Kelly, thank you for opening your heart and sharing what God has given you! How just like God to reconnect you and Brandee and allow you to see what He does through you! You are amazing my friend and it is a pleasure to do life with you!

  19. Kelly!!! I have tears streaming down my face now- so excuse any typos! You. Are. Exceptional!!! I am blessed to know you and gain strength from you every time you train me! I hope you never forget what a positive impact you have on other women’s lives- we sometimes forget that other people have struggles and obstacles to overcome when we are wrapped up in our own heads- I am guilty of it all too often- thank you for the reminder to remember to look up!!! Love you!!! Can’t wait to give you a non-sweaty hug tonight (before) boot camp!!! ?

  20. hi Gina!!! You are too sweet, thank you! I’ll go find you so I can follow you back!! I totally get this not being your distance. It’s not really mine either. I kind of just force it=) But for now, it’s time for a break. I do believe iron sharpens iron and thank you for the sweet reminder. I have no doubt you’ll be there for someone else when they need you. And as for the phone, I have a stretchy belt I carry it in. I had just taken it out so I could take pictures=) holding it is a pain and I haven’t tried it on my arm. I usually put my gopro in my handheld Nathan water bottle pouch but on race day I just held it so I could snap pics til the battery died. Then I put it in my belt. I looked like a pack mule, not a runner lol!!!! But worth it for the pictures!!! Thanks for the encouragement!!

  21. Thanks Heather…yes. It made me cry when I saw her. Such a sobering reminder of how sweet life is and how blessed we are to have healthy bodies. And it made me so hope and pray that if that were me, I’d be as brave as her. Thx for reading!

  22. thank you Erica!!! And girl, I get the funk. This is the first race I’ve finished where I haven’t felt that crappy feeling. Hope you keep pressing on and give yourself some grace. Life happens and sometimes running just takes more of a back seat. It will be good again!!!!

  23. I AM FREAKING OUT!!!!! AND CRYING LOL!!!!!!! Girl in the blue pants! Brandee….I’m going based on your email but girl, I can NOT believe you found this!!!!!!!!! I am so stinking proud of you. For real. You’ll be able to tell someone that’s struggling that you have done it alone and it completely made my day, my week to hear from you!!! I am still in shock that you found my post. That is just way cool and it is CRAZY we had such a similar day. And yes, we officially need to find a race to run together. Please stay in touch! I hope you are recovering well and so stinking proud of what you did on Sunday. You my friend are a rock star.

  24. So as I approached gate two my stomach churned. I begged my friends to stay with me as I was petrified to run alone after 5 months of running together. They feared the wrath of security and not making it to the potties and back to their corals on time. So Sage came back and hugged me one more time and said ” you got this, it’s your run.” I balled! Buggers and all coming down my face! I had to somehow find the courage and believe what she said.. I could do this! Then a hand… A wonderful red head wearing a visor running for St. Jude’s. The Angels responded! She said … I’m running alone too. Said I could do it! I was calm! She told me her running partner didn’t make it, we both we facing finding the same courage! She came in the wrong gate and all I wanted was for this St. Jude angel to stay with me! We talked about our partners and our pace and all I wanted was for her to run with me! Please run with me, be my partner today!!! But there was higher callings for her out there! Monica would soon need you more because – you and Sage were right- I had this! You talked me down and you paved me forward! I thank you! Reading your article and finding you today has made this experience all the better and more worth while! I feel every word you say as if it were my own! The reasons we run, they way you helped me, the mental and physical strength we found! We had very similar runs… Flew threw the first half! Had to pee at Mile 8, Achilles gave out at 14/15, had my Scott pop up and give me a boost too and somehow re – found that courage at 20. Those last 6.2 miles were the hardest thing I have ever done. But through it all …every St. Jude shirt that went by I hoped it was you… And here you are! My red head! Thank you! Heads up! Feet forward! I hope to run with you one day my friend! #girlinthebluepants

  25. This was beautiful! It made me cry! I’ve been in such a running funk the last few months. I finished my first marathon ( one year ago this weekend!) and have had so many ups and downs since then! Your words remind me exactly of WHY I am a runner. Thanks for the inspiration this morning!

  26. I meant to also ask you… i noticed you said you ran with a iphone 6+ do you put it in a “belt” or arm band when you run? i’m thinking up going up to a 6+ and just wonder how big it feels in a belt or armband. did you also run with a GoPro and just carry it? thanks – sorry for the questions just curious.

  27. What a great race recap, very touching. I would have cried when I saw the girl going through chemo. That is a true hero. Thanks for sharing and great photos. Congrats on finishing

  28. I’ve just recently started following you on Instagram (@gbena) and have to say am so glad I found your page/blog. This story brought me to tears. I am 46 (started running at 40) and have run 2 marathons and have no desire to do anymore. They just aren’t my distance. I too don’t run for winning or bragging or weight loss; I run because God have given me the ability to do so and I only want to encourage someone else as my friends encouraged me to my first marathon finish. I sat down at mile 22 and was about to take off my shoes and my friends were there and picked me up by each arm and ran the remaining 4.2 miles with me to the finish. I want to be that for someone else. I believe IRON SHARPENS IRON; proverbs 27:17 Thank you for sharing.

  29. well…you made ME cry!!!!! Thank you. You are so a favorite of mine for so many reasons.. Love you dearly friend

  30. oh Kelly. This made me cry. How amazing that you found each other at mile 20. THIS is why I fell in love with you so quickly as a trainer – you’re not trying to be superhuman. You are motivated by love and pure goodness.

    On marathon / distance running… It is entirely about the people! A bunch of crazies, United in their craziness. And the friendships built with training partners, just forget about it. Friends for life.


  31. thanks sweet Kelsey!!! Each one is unique and each training season tells a story. Love that about running. Keep rocking it girl and thanks for the encouragement!!!

  32. Kelly, this is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing what running truly means–the struggle, the triumph, the successes, the failures, the high points, the bad runs, and whatever that mysterious X factor is that keeps us all coming back. Love reading about each of your journeys to each of your starting lines and beyond! Keep running and keep writing.

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