“If you want to leave footprints in the sands of time, don’t drag your feet.”
– Arnot L. Sheppard
I’m a sucker for a good quote and this one had me biting my lower lip from the moment I saw it. It was stenciled on a temporary wall that concealed a construction zone inside the Chicago Hilton, where the girls and I stayed during our four day/three-night Windy City excursion. It perfectly captured why I had blown us all westward: I was paradoxically hell-bent on dragging my feet through another 26.2-mile footrace as a declaration that I refuse to drag my feet through the rest of my life.
In case it’s not imminently clear, this “let’s run all five World Major Marathons” thang is about much more to me than a BQ or a PR—and that’s most excellent news, as my anemic 4:32:25 in Chicago would earn me neither. Like a Bostonian in January, running’s got layers, and I wore ’em all throughout the 34th Chicago Marathon. Some were warm, familiar and cozy; others so scratchy and uncomfortable and that I couldn’t wait to wriggle free.
I came away from Chicago with renewed respect for the 26.2 distance and a deeper awe for those who master it. I am not among them—not yet anyways. I have joked that I would have rocked this race had it been the Chicago Half Marathon. But I have three more marathons left in me—New York, London and Berlin. So there’s still hope…and that leaves me biting my lower lip, too.
Here’s the pictorial version of the trip’s events:
We took off for Chicago early Friday morning; both girls in tow, I had planned to do precisely what they say not to do before a marathon: spend the 48 pre-race hours gallivanting around the city. I tried to inoculate myself against the planned indiscretion with a nap on the plane. The girls decided it was the first of many embarrassing Polaroid Moments:
Once we had touched down and stashed our bags at the Hilton, it was on to packet pickup and the Expo, where I joined a Nike Pace Team. A pace team is a group of runners trying to achieve the same goal—in my case, a 3:45 marathon (that’s my BQ time). Each team is led by an accomplished marathoner who runs the specific speed required to achieve that goal (in my case 8:35 miles) so wanna-bes like me can follow along. They gave us pace bibs for our backs (so we’d know which goslings were following each Momma Goose) and pace tattoos for our arms (in the event we got separated from the flock and had to fend for ourselves). I was super-excited about both my 18800 and my 3:45:
“They” also say not to waste time and energy walking around the Expo. I didn’t heed that warning either; the girls and I got a kick out of the Heaven-themed Brooks booth, which came complete with Jesus and angels:
We also giggled over the vast array of goofy running shirts, like this one whose front said “You Know You’re a Marathoner If…”
With that done, we headed out on the town. We ate at the very first Uno’s Pizzeria, which claims to have invented the deep-dish pizza.
The walls are covered from floor to ceiling with writing. Both girls added to the scribble, thanks to a waitress-provided Sharpie.
I was jealous; the day before a marathon I wasn’t going to eat pizza so I got the pasta and coveted Emma’s individual pie…
We took a trolley tour of the city. Wow is all I can say. Stunning. Lake Michigan’s beauty beckoned my inner triathlete, made me wish my upcoming race had a swim leg.
Apparently, we aren’t alone in appreciating this spit of land’s beauty; brides jockeyed for position to have wedding pictures taken here. Here you’ll see two bridal parties….
Here, tourists on a Segway-powered city tour zip right past a posing bride and groom. Segways! What fun! Sadly, you need to be 13 to do this, and Daughter #2 is only 11…maybe we’ll come back in 2013 🙂
It was only a five-minute walk from the waterfront back to the Hilton, and hailing a cab proved problematic so when the day was done (or rather I was done with the day and chomping at the bit to rest up and refocus) we decided to walk. Bad idea: the direct route was all blocked off so crews could construct the marathon’s start and finish lines. We wandered pointlessly trying to find a way to get to our so-close-but-yet-so-far hotel. An NBC cameraman sensed this damsel’s distress (perhaps it was when I calmly said in my very best crazy-woman voice, “I’m RUNNING A FLIPPING MARATHON TOMORROW—how the heck do we get cross this barricade without walking another TEN FLIPPING MILES?!?!”)
In short, he was a man with a plan (and a golf cart with three empty seats). I don’t know his name but I am forever grateful. NBC dude, you totally rock.
Hmmm what’s for dinner? Yep, more pasta.
I am sure there are better photos of the start of the race but I love these best; they were taken by my girls as they watched the race on big-screen TVs in the safety of the Balbo Hospitality Tent:
The rest of us…45,000 runners! I thought Boston was as big as it could get, but that had “only” 23,879 finishers!
“Trust in Your Training.” The last words of advice I got (via Facebook) from my Children’s Hospital/Boston Marathon team coach Jeff were “trust in your training.” I totally trusted my training—and that was my problem. All summer long I had trained like hell for the USA Triathlon National Age Group Championships–first to qualify and then to hold my own amongst that accomplished peloton. Which I did in late August…precisely when I would have been ramping up my weekly mileage were Chicago my “A” race. And so I wore my Nationals shirt during the marathon, both because it makes me feel fast and strong and also to celebrate what I had accomplished there.
Record-Breaking Day. Kenya is to running what Canada is to hockey, so it’s no huge surprise that a triumvirate of Kenyan countrymen (Moses Mosop, Wesley Korir and Bernard Kipyego) swept Chicago’s podium. Mosop ran his 19th and 20th miles “in the 4s” (4:38 and 4:37, to be precise). I ran those same miles “in the 11s.” (We need not get more precise about mine.) In my book, Moses’ mile splits are as jaw-dropping as his namesakes’ Red Sea splitting. He definitely earned every one of the 150,000 Benjamins he took home—that’s $100K for taking first place and $50K for breaking the course record by four seconds.
Life and Death. It was a day of extremes, for sure. Marathoner Amber Miller delivered a baby girl seven hours after crossing the finish line. Thirty-five-year-old dad of two Will Caviness, an accomplished marathoner who was on pace to finish right around three hours 17 minutes , died on the course just 500 yards away from the finish line. The juxtaposition of those two sentences leave me speechless.
The Downside of Hill-Free Courses. I had heard Chicago described as “flat and fast” and that excited me; I can “do” flat…it’s the darn hills that break my heart. At least that’s what I thought. Well, by mile 10 or so I started to miss hills. Hills force your body to change up the muscle groups, giving the meat you use on the flats a bit of a break. Using my “flats” muscles for all 26.2 miles was not okay. I overheard one runner telling another, more ailing racer to walk backwards for a bit to overcome this, to force the other muscles into action. I didn’t join in (truth be told, I thought I’d fall walking backwards) but it sounded like a really good idea.
File Under: “How Freaking Cool is That?” Since American Ryan Hall was stride for stride with Wesley Korir for much of the race, many were disappointed when Korir took second and Hall faded to fourth. How did Hall feel about it? He donated his Chicago winnings to a hospital Korir began building in Kenya after his brother died from a snake bite that would not have been fatal had more modern medical practices been in place…proving once again that runners are just really good peeps.
C is For Chicago. In the end, I dug down deep in my fuel belt for a Plan C to save me in Chicago. I ceremonially watched my Garmin whirl right past first my “Plan A” Boston Qualifying time and then 15 minutes later my Plan B’s sub-four-hours goal. I handled both times’ passing the same way I handle the anniversaries of my girls’ birth moments (2:09 pm on April 2nd and 9:25 pm on May 14th): I smiled and took a bigdeepbreath, deep enough to break through the lump rising in my throat. We-can-do-this.
How’d I Miss the Sears Tower??? As we approached the finish, the signs switched from announcing miles to marking meters. At the 400 M sign I tried to remember how many laps around the track that equals—a challenge even when I’m lucid. (It is one lap, and even that seemed impossible to execute by then.) To keep my mind off the pain I thought about all the great sights I’d seen on this course—the funny signs (My top five: “Jesus is Watching–so DON’T F THIS UP!”; “Real Men Last Four Hours”; “Worst Parade Ever!”; “Go, Complete Stranger, Go!” and “Only One in 1,000 People Will Ever Run a Marathon. YOU ROCK!!!!”), the cross-dressing dancers, the Elvis impersonators. It occurred to me that I somehow missed the Sears Tower. Running Chicago and missing the Sears Tower is akin to running Boston and missing Fenway. Well I’m certainly not turning back to find it, I thought. I would have laughed but that would have required a level of energy I hadn’t seen since the gates of Chinatown.
Plan C? “Chicking!” OK, so I wouldn’t BQ and I wouldn’t PR, but I rose to the occasion at the finish line to do a little “chicking”. In the event you need a refresher course on this term, a girl “chicks” a guy when she passes him at the finish and I am unhealthily obsessed with doing it. The dude ahead of me to the right…in the red singlet and black cap…was in the wrong place at the wrong time…
He doesn’t stand a chance…
GOTCHA! At least I accomplished one thing I set out to do in Chicago 🙂
So #18800 finished with a smile on her face and a 4:32:25 on the time clock. I am as happy with my 4:32:25 as I was to see that great big ol’ FINISH sign at the end of a long, hard, hot Sunday.
And now I am thrilled to report that I will take a nice long hiatus from marathons; next up in my World Majors quest will be the New York City Marathon, and the soonest I’d be able to tackle that one would be November 2012…we’ll see about that! 🙂
Ya’ll have a great day. Don’t drag your feet—go leave some footprints. It’s totally OK if you fall off-pace while you’re leaving ‘em.