My Bucket List: Running a Marathon

As I blogged earlier this year I trained and successfully completed a half marathon. The next goal was now to finish an entire marathon, something that I had always wanted to do and was on my ‘bucket list’ of sorts. At the time I registered for the Orange County Half Marathon I also signed up for the Chicago Marathon five months later.

Right away training became a problem. My foot, which I injured right after I signed up for both these races, was not getting any better. It downright hurt to run at all, something that I wanted to do more of in order to beat the 6 hour 30 minute finish cutoff time. Then time was an issue. Because of the long commute of my job I couldn’t train more than three days a week and I felt pressure to make each workout count. The hot summer made it difficult to get the miles in. I do not like exercising in heat and I was resorting to getting up at dawn, especially when I was trying to get in 15, 20 miles or more. My goal was to run / walk the race for as long as I could and then fast walk the rest to finish and make the cutoff time. I practiced with different run / walk intervals, settling on running five tenths and walking one tenth.

About two months before the race it was a hot Saturday and I hit a wall on my workout at about 17 miles. My confidence about completing the race plummeted and I was really beginning to doubt that I could accomplish this. I had to spend the subsequent weeks building back up slowly to boast my confidence again. Finally I did get some good training in the last two weeks before the race so I felt ready to go.

My husband, our 19 year old daughter and I all flew to Chicago on the day before the race, which was a Saturday. It was rather hectic because as soon as we landed, made our way into town and checked into the hotel, we had to hurry to the race expo to pick up our packets and bibs. Then it was off to do some quick sightseeing, as our daughter had never been to Chicago before, and have dinner before getting to sleep at a decent hour. We were all registered for the race and it was the first marathon for my daughter and me so we were a little nervous. We were up early on race day and there was so much to do. We needed to eat, get bibs pinned on, be properly hydrated and then get to the start line in plenty of time, since there were 45,000 people participating in the race.

We made it there about 15 minutes before the race start; here I wished my husband and daughter good luck as they squeezed into the race corral way ahead of me, based on their projected finish time. I went towards the back, found a good spot and then waited. With so many people in the race I didn’t cross the start line until 29 minutes after the official gun had sounded. I was nervous but tried to concentrate on the plan – run five tenths, walk one tenth. This went well and at 6.5 miles I had a time of 1 1/2 hours, a decent pace. What I hadn’t counted on was the water stations making my routine of run / walk difficult to follow and the steadily rising unseasonable heat.

By about mile 11 I was having trouble running very far. It was getting quite hot and I was already feeling tired. I began to think arriving the day before and all that activity was contributing to my fatigue. I tried to keep to my routine as long as I could, keeping in the shade and even pouring water over my head to keep my core temperature down. Soon I reached the halfway point, at 13.1 miles. My time was 3:13, which was slower than the 3 hours I had hoped to achieve at that point. I realized that I would not be able to run as much during the second part of the race and therefore had no realistic shot at finishing under the 6:30 cutoff time.

It was getting very hot now, close to 80 F degrees. I decided that, in order to finish, I would move to primarily walking. This worked out well and I got into a good rhythm as others around me were beginning to have trouble. It seemed that every aid station for the remainder of the race had an ambulance close by and people who looked to be laboring. During miles 15 to 20 I had to prepare myself mentally to endure the endless course where it seemed to take forever to get to the next water station. I took it one mile at a time, put on my headphones and listened to some music from a race playlist I had prepared. It would be so easy to quit now, as I was sure that my husband and daughter had probably already finished and were waiting for me.

I just kept moving and once past mile 20, I could see the end in sight. Since it was so late in the race, people were beginning to break down the race support along the way. But the water stations were always there, along with many people with hoses, which kept things bearable in the heat. All the work I had done in the summer, training at 90F plus temperatures, was actually paying off as I saw more and more people laboring around me. I got a motivational text from my husband, who was at the finish line, and I kept moving. The next mile passed, the next water station came, and then the course turned on to Michigan Avenue and I knew we were getting closer.

Finally I got to mile 25, just a little over a mile to go, and at that point I was overcome with emotion. I was so tired but I knew I was going to make it. I hit mile 26, turned the corner and then the finish line was just a few more meters in front of me. I willed myself to run the last few feet and crossed the finish line in 6:58. Not within the official race cutoff perhaps, but I did finish and stayed under seven hours. My best full marathon workout time had been 7:42 so I was pleased with the results.

After the race we had a great celebratory dinner and then flew home the next day. I had some terrible blisters that took quite a while to heal but felt great otherwise. However, I felt totally different inside.

People say completing a marathon changes you and I totally agree with that. The months of training, the setbacks during that time, the adjustments during the race and the physical and mental toughness that you must draw upon to succeed do strengthen you. Little things don’t seem to upset me as much anymore, I feel more balanced and I lost some weight in the process. I am convinced that I if did this anyone with the motivation could do this too. The preparation for this had been such a part of me that I felt little lost after the race was over since I had nothing else planned. I still am not sure if this was a onetime thing or not.

In the meantime I have signed up for a half marathon in January so the story is not complete yet.

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