Sunday, October 24, 2010

How I finished the Chicago Marathon in 110 degree temperatures

Okay, okay it wasn’t 110 degrees but I had to get your attention and I want to elaborate because a few people just don't understand. The average temperature in Chicago on October 10th is 48 degrees for the low and 67 degrees for the high ( The average temperature for all of my long runs was about 45-55 degrees. I trained that way intentionally because I wanted to run in similar weather conditions and because I wanted to run very early in the morning (usually by 5 a.m.) so that I could get my run in and get on with my day. I believe the temperatures reached around 85 degrees in Chicago on this particular day. By 11 a.m. (when I still had 2 full hours to run), race officials had issued a red-flag warning, signifying "potentially dangerous conditions.” Another huge factor for me was that the sun was in my face practically the whole entire time. I mean, it really was beating down on me (and the rest of the 36,000 runners) relentlessly no matter which way I turned. I even felt the heat from the street below me too. And isn’t Chicago the “windy city”? I felt a breeze about three or four times, and very briefly. So why did I say it was 110 degrees? Because some of my friends “love” running in 85 degree temperatures. Which is fine. If you are comfortable running in 85 degrees (like I am comfortable running in 55 degrees) then imagine running in 110 degrees, because that would be equivalent. Get it? Oh, and then try doing it for 26.77 miles (yes, .77 is accurate according to my Garmin, there is a lot of trying to get around people and such and that adds distance)!
Okay, so now you get why I exaggerated. Let’s get to the other points. Although this was my 4th marathon, I had to start training at square one at the beginning of 2010. I had a baby last year and literally did not log more than 30 miles the whole entire year. In January of this year, I could not run a continuous mile! Needless to say, I logged a lot of miles from January to October. I mean a lot! I also completed two half marathons, the last one in 2:16. Training went really well. Nearly every Saturday I was waking up super early (sometimes at 3:30 to scarf down a sandwich for fuel) and going for a long run. Once I worked up to my actual marathon training, my first official long run was 6 miles. And wow! 6 miles was a lot of work. Then I gradually built up my long runs to eventually run 20 miles before race day. I have to say, although I was usually nervous and had my doubts beforehand; my long runs went exceptionally well! I knew I would finish this marathon, and I knew it would be my fastest one yet.  In fact, I was pretty sure I could do the whole thing in 4 hours and 40 minutes. If all went well and the weather was decent.
After walking for 20 minutes, we can now see the START! See it?

So the big day arrived and I met up with my long distance training partner, Angela and my father-in-law, Steve. We “trained together” from several states apart. I live in Wisconsin, Angela lives in Tennessee, and Steve lives in Iowa. We encouraged each other through text messages, emails, and phone calls all throughout our training. As we stood at the start line we were pretty excited (and maybe a tad nervous)! I had banished all negative thoughts and comments about the weather. Being negative was not going to help anyone so I did my best to stay positive. When I heard others complaining, I tried to block them out because I could literally feel it suck energy from me. Back to the start. There we were with THOUSANDS of other runners. Almost all of them filled with excitement. Some fast, some slow, some prepared, some unprepared… So many people with so many reasons to run. Truly inspirational. There was an amazing energy all around us! As we stood there, I tried not to notice the heat. The start was at 7:30 a.m. and I was hot long before the gun went off. We were standing so close to each other, wall to wall people, with no breeze. I believe the temperature was around 64 degrees at that time. Over the speakers we heard “The Star-Spangled Banner” and it was beautiful. We were listening to the same song as the elite athletes that were standing at the beginning of the line. We were in the same race as these elite athletes! After the song, the gun goes off!! AND…….. AND………… We start taking BABY STEPS!! Creeping towards the start line. It took a full 25 minutes of SLOW walking just to reach the start line!! That’s how HUGE the Chicago marathon is! And there were plenty of people behind us! Who knows how many minutes it took the last person to get to the start line. Once I actually could see the start line, I got really excited! The big day was finally here! 10-10-10! Here we go!!

We started running just before we crossed the start line. The spectators were everywhere! I mean, it was CRAZY how many fans there were. It truly was amazing! There were so many people that I didn’t even see my family at the start. But I did end up seeing them a few times along the way. Angela and I stuck together, Steve preferred to run alone. It was so crowded that I had to hold my arms in, much of the way. Angela and I frequently bumped into each other and I made contact with a few other people as well, which is a downside of such a big race. It seemed like we reached mile 5 instantly and then pretty soon we were at mile 9. The sun had been out for a few miles at this point. We were running at a nice even pace and I still felt strong but hesitant. Angela and I were keeping a pace that would get us to the finish line in four hours and forty five minutes. This was a very reasonable goal for each of us. We stayed on pace (or within about 30 seconds of it) for the first 14 miles. And then, it slipped away. I really started to feel the heat and the unbearable sun. If I were at home, I would not have even thought about running outside in that heat and sun. But I wasn’t at home, and this was the big day that I had spent endless hours dreaming, preparing, and training for. So I tried to push through my misery. At mile 14, I felt considerably worse than I did when I finished my last 20 mile run. Really, so much worse that it wasn’t even comparable. Actually, I didn’t feel too bad at all when I finished my 20 mile training run! My sister-in-law took a picture of me at mile 15 and my face just says it all. I was miserable. It was tough. The heat was taking it’s toll on me, BIG TIME. It was exactly at that moment when I told Angela to go on without me, for the first time. But she wouldn’t leave me. Being from Tennessee, she trained in much warmer temperatures than I did. In fact, she was worried about being too cold, until the forecast kept continuing to predict warmer and warmer temperatures. She didn’t leave me, and I kept running with her by my side. I found out later that my husband was really worried about me after seeing us at mile 15.

Mile 15. Very hot already.
11 miles to go and I'm not doing too great.

My feet had never been so hot. Later, I found that I had several blisters and 5 out of 10 of my toenails turned black. My feet were so swollen from the heat that they were rubbing against my shoes, causing blisters (I did not get a single blister during my months of training!). And at this point and for the rest of the race, my heart rate was much higher than it had been during my training runs even though I was running much slower!
For hydration, I was smart and made sure to drink as much as I could. There were water stations about every mile. (I should also mention that the number of volunteers at this race was also incredible! There were plenty of water stations and plenty of volunteers handing out water and Gatorade) I took three cups of water at each and every station!! Can you believe it? That’s about 75 cups of water! And how many bathroom breaks did I need? Not a single one. That’s how dehydrated I was. The water stations were extremely crowded and it was hard to get through them. It definitely affected our time, but after a certain point, I didn’t care anymore. In fact, I welcomed the long walking break. My new revised goal was to make it in less than 5 hours. We walked through the water stops and then after a few more miles I just started walking when I was too hot and miserable to run. This was often. Finally at mile 23, I looked at Angela and I said (begged), “I will finish this, please go.” And she did! I was so happy! I didn’t want to hold her back any longer and I wanted to run or walk at my own pace because I just couldn’t go at anyone else’s anymore. It was a huge relief. I loved knowing she could finish strong without anyone holding her back and I was so grateful that she pulled me along as far as she did. So at mile 23 I did the figuring. If I really, really pushed it, I could finish this marathon in just under 5 hours. But there was no guarantee that I could handle pushing it that hard. In fact, it was very likely that I would not have been able to handle it. I had felt a little dizzy a couple of times already. My husband and three kids were waiting for me at the finish line and I certainly did not want to risk not finishing. I wanted to show my children that even though it was really hard for me, I could do it. I would finish what I started. So guess what. I said to myself, all time goals are out the window. I made those goals with reasonable conditions in mind. These conditions were not reasonable (to me). So I am going to finish this thing. I am going to smile for the last 3 miles and just take it all in. I enjoyed the music and the fans, the whole atmosphere. I smiled at everyone. So many people called out my name and cheered for me (I had written my name down the side of my arm in marker). I clapped and smiled and yelled. It was awesome. My husband took a picture of me somewhere at the end of mile 25 and you could see on my face how happy I was. It’s as if you could see the weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I looked like such a different person 11 miles earlier!!
Giving my girls high-fives. Between mile 25 and mile 26, I am a bit happier now!

So I kept going. Running. Walking. Crawling. Well, not crawling, but it felt like it! I crossed that finish line with thousands of people all around, running and cheering, in five hours and seven minutes. Five minutes after Angela. My father-in-law finished in about five hours and twenty-seven minutes. I was relieved to see him! In fact, this was the first time I had ever finished a race before him, but I'm not going to rub it in. Next time I will, but not this time. :)

Did I make my goal of four hours and forty-five minutes? Nope. Do I know that under good conditions it was a reasonable goal and that I had a good possibility of making it? Yes. Is that good enough for me? No! I can’t wait to run two or three marathons next year and to run at least one in four hours and forty minutes or quicker! The weather is always a gamble for races. It could have been really windy, rainy, freezing, or even snowing. In fact, just one year earlier (October 12, 2009) we had a big SNOW storm in Wisconsin.
October 12, 2009
Just a little cooler temps!

You never know. You just have to do your best to prepare for what you think will happen and “pull it in strong” (rainman37) no matter what conditions you end up with. I smiled from mile 23 all the way through my Chicago deep dish pizza later that night. It was a good, hard day. I earned my medal and I will always remember that I could have easily given up and nobody would have blamed me, but I pushed through and crossed that finish line. 10-10-10, a day I will never forget.
Thank you, Angela, for your endless support, for getting me to the finish line and for going on your own at mile 23. You are amazing! Thank you, Steve, for all of your text messages and encouragement.  I am so proud of you both. Congratulations!
Also a special thank you to my MFP friends for putting up with me and inspiring me every single day!
I am still running and next year is the year!! <----ummmm, it turns out I got pregnant 10-11-10! So, next year won't be the year (for running anyway) but 2012 will be! :)
This is a video that Angela's husband put together, Angela's story. It shows us running in the marathon.