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.