I’m not even sure where to start this recap. So instead of the beginning, I’ll start with the ending.
I crossed the finish line of my second marathon at 5:04:20, hand in hand with two of my favorite girls. A race during which we cried. We laughed. We danced and drank beer. These were 5 hours well spent. Hours that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It wasn’t any of our fastest race. What it was, however, was our favorite race. And one that I will never forget.
PS, snuggle up. This ain’t short.
I’ve been stressing about this day for months. 10/7/12 was like doomsday on my calendar. I fought through injury, burnout, and a lackluster training all summer long. I looked for any reason to pull out of this race, even though deep down I wanted SO badly to do well. But as time grew closer, I made a decision. I would run. And I would finish. And at the very least, I would try my best.
The week prior to the race I tried to be good. Meaning I ate every carb in sight and got into my bed by 10p every night. We had a Perfect Stranger dinner meetup at Houlihan’s the Thursday before. Dana brought us goodie bags with gels and matching knee socks. Kelly & Jaime made us smile in their own special way even though nothing could’ve made us smile as big as we did the year before. I still had my doubts despite all the support, but tried my best to put them deep in my back pocket.
Saturday morning I bummed a ride to The Windy City with Christi, Karen & her husband Shaun. I thought about driving myself, but figured I’d have more fun with a group, plus save some gas money. We laughed as we made 2 stops before even getting to the highway and 2 more during the 3 hour drive. Hey, hydration comes with a price! 😉
After a little exit confusion on I-94, we made it to the Expo by 11a CST. We immediately went about our business of bib and swag bag collection. We met up briefly with Dana and her friends, but sadly missed the Megs, who arrived just after we left. In my expo travels I also found myself a new running “fanny pack” and finally found my name on the big wall o’ runners.
The hours following the expo consisted of lunch at Chili’s (FYI we were total trend setters – the place was packed by time we left), some shopping at NikeTown, and a little power nap back at the hotel. At 6p, a group of us reunited downtown at Volare, a wonderful little Italian restaurant that provided us with all the pre-race carbs we needed. As well as a little anxiety-zapper in the form of laughter + vino rosso.
As you may or may not have noticed, the hubs wasn’t at dinner with us, nor at any of the earlier Chicago activities. Sadly he wasn’t able to make the drive up with me earlier in the day due to a golf tournament. So after finishing 32 holes, he dropped our furbaby off at the inlaws and made the 4-hr trek from Muncie to Chicago, arriving just after 11p CST. Even though I had been asleep for nearly 2 hours by this point, I was so happy to see his tired face. It wasn’t a matter of wanting him there. I needed him there. I think I had hammered that home in the weeks prior. And thankfully he picked up on it.
I was up and out of bed by 530a. The race didn’t start until 8. I took the advice of Meghan and Christi who said they always make sure to incorporate a little time before a race to collect themselves. Whether that be with a cup of coffee, a shower, or a carby breakfast. A little downtime goes a long way. Especially in the wake of pre-race jitters. So I gave it a go. As I contemplated my outfit for the day, I texted Meggie asking her about her choice of gear. She proceeded to send me a pic of her outfit, combined with a half view of a pouty anxiety-ridden face. It was then that I realized what was ahead of us. 26.2 miles. 4+ hours of running. I knew exactly how she felt. We kind of have a connection like that. So trying to be the best Boppy Fairy, I requested a redo pic, this time with a smile. She obliged.
The Marriott guys and gals met in the hotel lobby at 645a. Due to some cab deficiencies, Meggie & friends were forced to drive to the start line themselves. So outside we went to start our trek south. It was then that we got our first taste of the day’s weather: high 30’s and breezy! Brrrr. So happy I opted for the capris. My legs would NOT have been happy with booty shorts. Our first stop was the Hyatt to pick up Dana et. al. We kept our nerves at bay with continuous chatter and before we knew it, we had arrived at Grant Park.
This year, the race incorporated a corral system with two separate waves. In the years previous, things were separated basically into fast runners (those with qualifying times) and regular runners (aka me), who were placed in an “open” corral. This led to a big cluster-eff of a march up to the start line, taking upwards of 30 minutes just to get going. Luckily, our entire crew was in the second wave, and all (except Adam & I) were in letter J. I was still a blue bib, so I was able to start with the J girls. But Adam had to go one corral back into K. Luckily we kept him in our sights, and us in his, as he snapped this swell pic of us waiting for him against the Chicago skyline.
Not much was said in the moments leading up to the start line. At least by me. I was quiet. I was in my own head. I wasn’t sure what I was really in for, even though I knew EXACTLY what it would entail. Makes no sense, right? Part of me wished I had trained better. Part of me was saying eff it. I was here. I was going to run. And I was going to get by with a little help from my friends.
About 10 minutes after 8 we got to running. Karen and Christi had decided to pair up and run together while Dana, Adam, Meggie, Meghan and I were a 5-man team. The vibe was amazing from the get go. Though I think a few people opted to stay in their warm beds, most if not all of the city was out on the streets cheering their heads off. I’m so spoiled, and honestly kind of afraid to run another marathon after this type of cheering. I know nothing can possibly compare. Our favorite sign? “If marathons were easy, they’d be called your mother.” Boom.
The first quarter of this race was rough. I was on an emotional ledge. At any given point I could’ve broken down and cried. Meggie was right up there with me. Plus I had to pee. Not bad, but to the point where it consumed quite a bit of my thoughts. Adam and Meghan bit the bullet around mile 5 and took care of business behind some trees. My stage fright prevented me from following suit, so instead I kept a lock on my bladder. Reminding everyone at least once a mile that I “still had to go.”
Mile 6 was a game changer. First, it was RunBMC mile. Otherwise known as the first time I would get to see my family. I scanned the crowds intently in the minutes that preceded, making sure I was on the correct side of the road. When I finally saw the yellow + purple sign up to my left, I lost it. I sprinted up and away from my crew, found my dad, and immediately buried my head in his chest. I don’t know what came over me, but apparently I was desperate for some sort of emotional release. I knew he would understand. He told me to run faster cause they were cold 😉 and a few seconds later I ran away. Happy and hyperventilating.
After a min or two I was able to breathe again, only to then notice swarms of runners looking up and right and waving their arms off. As I looked up, I saw the most precious sight: tons of elderly people in what looked to be a nursing home, sitting and looking out the window with enormous smiles on their faces. They were so thrilled to be getting attention from so many strangers. And we were all thrilled to have their love and support. Whether they realized it or not. I looked back at Meggie with big eyes and a pouty lip, to which she yelled at me, “Don’t you look at me, Bri! Don’t you do it!” I laughed and turned around. It was then I decided there would be no more tears. It was time to make this race fun.
We saw our men a total of SIX times throughout the race. If you’ve ever spectated before, you know this is NOT an easy feat. Especially in the city of Chicago (think trains and cabs). The first time we saw them was a mile and a half in. The next was at mile 7.5. They yelled for us each time we came down the chute, holding up their amazing yellow sign to let us know where they were. And each time we stopped (yes, stopped) to visit, they gave us high fives, hugs, and/or kisses. Thanks to Meghan and her amazing “chunking” skills, we knew when and where to expect them at all times of the day, which made the miles fly by. Love you guys.
We ran past the RunBMC crew again around mile 9, and this time every family member got a hug and an “I love you.” I adored having them out there. They definitely put the bop in my step.
As we approached the halfway mark, we were getting into more of a groove, thanks to our taskmaster Meghan. She kept us in line – water stop here, gel mile there. It was a systematic approach and it worked beautifully. Adam and Dana were starting to pull away, so at our next water stop we gave them the go ahead. We knew they could do much better than us at this point. Plus we were all tired of asking, “Where’s Becker?!” 😉
At 13.1, we pulled off to the side for a stretch break. Our hips and legs were all screaming at us. My right ass was just about numb. So we took a few minutes to recollect before moving on to part 2: the hearty miles.
We saw the guys again a short bit later, who this time hooked us up with Jolly Ranchers and individual pep talks. Our spirits weren’t the best by this point, but we knew we could get through it if we stayed together and kept to our routine. I was encouraged by the Megs more than once to go on ahead, but never once did I even contemplate it. When weighing my options (finishing faster but alone vs finishing slower but together), the choice was obvious. Even after the race, my Dad asked me the same thing (why didn’t you go on ahead if you were feeling good?). The simple fact was that this race wasn’t about time. I didn’t train to run fast. I trained to finish. Plus I knew my girls needed me and I needed them just as much. No perfect stranger was going to be left behind.
I have to say, when we were running, we were running strong. There were no 11:00 minute miles. Our average pace went down simply due to our frequent stops. Our actual pace hovered anywhere from 9:30-10:15 min/mi the majority of the race.
Miles 15-20 were the toughest to remember but I did make note of some key points. At one point I asked why there were tamales all over the ground in Chinatown (actually banana peels). There was a stop at the Med tent for Tylenol and Vaseline. I reminded the girls that I had to pee again and again, yet never stopped to go cuz of long lines at the porta potties. Along with the funny memories, there were also some not so fun ones. There were a few points of mental breakdown requiring nothing but silence. Around mile 17, we stopped to stretch after a water break and Meghan was stretching with her head on a street post. I could tell she was down, frustrated, and hurting. I rubbed her back just to let her know I was there. And she did as Meghan does. She dried her eyes and got back after it. I love this girl.
As we ran on, trying to put our ailments aside, Meggie made a great comment. She said, “Ladies, if we’re not going to PR [and obviously we weren’t], then we better start having some fun. We need to have a story to tell.” It was right after that that “Let’s Hear it for the Boys” came blaring through a stereo, prompting our first of many singalongs. Fun, here we come.
At mile 22 we saw a group of peeps on the left offering up cups of beer. “Should we?” I asked, to which the Megs replied, “I’ll do it if you do it.” I immediately veered left, grabbed a cup, and took it down. The girls followed behind. It was quite possibly the best Busch Light I’ve ever tasted in my life. And it went straight to our bloodstreams. We laughed our heads off as we ran away. Were we really drinking beer during a marathon?? Not two minutes later, we came across another group of guys, this time with handheld rollers! The Megs pulled over and asked for their services (“Can you roll my ass??”). He obliged. I captured the moment.
From there, the fun continued. And our pace was amazing. Something about the end of a run makes you feel like you can do anything. Am I right? We felt the strongest we had been the whole day from mile 23 on. Maybe it was the Wildberry Skittles? Meg’s rapping at mile 24? Or possibly the PJ-ing (pretentious jogging)? Oh, nevermind. I know what it was. It was the chips/ salsa/ swig of beer/ dance party at mile 25 with the guys that propelled us to the end.
As our watches struck 5 hours, we locked our sights on the finish line. The last mile of the Chicago Marathon is a straight up B. Long, never-ending, and up a hill. We worked pretty darn hard during those last few minutes. But as we hit the straight-away, we locked hands. We would finish this race together. Not one of us left behind.
The space blankets were an absolute must. Though it warmed up slightly during the race, it was still high 40’s, maybe 50. We grabbed our medals, our free beers, and Becker (!) who was waiting for us in the chute.
We made our way to the post-race party, but not before a stop at,,,, the PORTA POTTY! Good grief. Talk about release #2 of the day 😉 We met up with the rest of the guys on the grassy knoll where we enjoyed beer, beefsticks, and tons of laughs. An absolutely amazing day.
As for the other Perfect Strangers, they all managed to rock some pretty amazing times. Christi 4:04, Karen 4:06, Dana 4:35, Becker 4:41. And my cousin Ashley finished her very first marathon in 5:07. I couldn’t be prouder.
So to wrap up this insanely long post, there are just a few more things to say. Mostly, I just can’t stand how much I loved everything about this day. From the wild emotions at the beginning. To our families and supporters scattered throughout the course. To the city of Chicago for being so amazing. To mother nature who gave us a beautiful race-perfect day. To my husband who loved me despite my doubts and training insanity. And to my girls who never let me down, stayed strong, and kept me laughing. God only knows where I’d be without you.
When’s #3? 😉