Post Marathon Thoughts.
A little over a week ago, I crossed the finish line of my fourth marathon with another personal record and a painful smile on my face.
Let's start by saying, this year I had what I felt was bold goal for the marathon I wanted to run a 3:50:00. A couple of months before, I really started thinking that it wasn't going to happen and that I wasn't prepared or running well enough to run that pace, that was also when I was really struggling mentally with training. But the month leading up to the marathon I started running extremely strong every training run and that goal started seeming more and more achievable. When I got to the start line Sunday morning I felt confident that I could push myself to run a 3:50:00.
My good friend Juli and I, who I had been doing speed work with during training, decided to meet at the start find the 3:50 pace group and run 26.2 miles together. We both had a list of people who would be spectating and cheering us on along the course that we wanted to look out for, which in my opinion is one of the best parts about the Chicago Marathon. We had energy, nervous energy, but we couldn't stop smiling while we were waiting to cross that start line.
There is nothing quite like the start of the Chicago Marathon, the energy is insane, the crowds overwhelm you with yelling and cheers and cow bells and loud music and signs. There's so much to look at you don't even realize you're running at first. Which is a HUGE reason that I choose to run with a pace group, if I wasn't with that group I'm pretty positive I would start out sprinting and completely fall apart at the halfway point of the marathon.
We started seeing people we knew at Mile 4, then saw groups of friends every few miles until mile 12, it was a blur of excitement and I couldn't stop smiling. I knew at that point that I wouldn't be seeing any friends until Mile 16 when my dad would be jumping in with me to run 9 miles (I know, I have the best dad in the universe.) I told myself to stay focused, run strong, and get to dad- he would be a perfect boost for those last 10 miles of the marathon. At Mile 14 I was next to the pacer, who was by far one of the most enthusiastic pacers I've ever ran with, and she said, "Wow!! You are looking great, your coloring is great, you're running strong, and you've got a big smile- keep that smile on your face, it will make you run better!" I was overwhelmed by the amount of encouraging encounters and how strong I felt, AND I was going to see my dad soon. The moments as I approached Mile 16 I was scanning the crowds like crazy, and then I spotted his bright yellow Boston Marathon shirt and both of our faces lit up he jumped in and started running by my side.
Then a dreaded moment by all runners came, I started having GI issues and I quickly knew a bathroom stop was going to be necessary. That was probably the moment that I realized how grateful I was that my dad was by my side, I knew he would wait and keep me on track for my goals. My biggest fear in ever needing to stop is loosing the pace group then mentally and physically being unable to keep the pace and eventually catch back up to the group. Even with my dad by my side, I still had a moment of panic when I got back on the course knowing that I wasn't with the pace group anymore. He kept me going, he kept me running strong. But there was no doubt that my body felt very different after the quick pit stop, it felt tight and was quickly getting exhausted. By Mile 21 I felt so tight that I started getting very frustrated and mentally the struggle began, I asked my dad if I could walk for a tiny bit through the water station so that I could fully drink without running and with the hopes of my body loosening up and feeling stretched a little. It helped, but not for long, my body began to tighten again and unfortunately walking through a water station again started sounding more and more appealing. Two water stations later I walked with my water again, and one more after that, at about mile 23 and 24. I would get quick relief from the tightness and it would quickly creep back in, my right calf muscle started feeling like it was going to cramp up. Lets be real guys, mentally I was STRUGGLING. I was frustrated, I knew I had completely lost my 3:50:00 goal and I started to think a PR wasn't even going to happen. But my dad just kept on running, kept on encouraging, kept on commenting about the crowds and telling stories, so I kept on going.
I started seeing the Mile 25 sign in sight and suddenly my mental state changed from defeated to determined, I silently began speeding up pushing through the pain. I was in a zone, I was determined and honestly I just wanted to be at the finish because I wanted to stop running and I really wanted some chocolate milk. That last mile was my fastest mile, I had it in me I had just mentally let go from mile 21-25. I crossed the finish line strong and quickly checked my phone to see messages saying "PR" and "YOU DID IT." With a 3:55:01 finishing time, I beat my Nashville Marathon time by 1 minute and 26 seconds, and my 2015 Chicago Marathon time by 6 minutes and 36 seconds.
So, that's the 2016 Chicago Marathon for me. The last week and a half I've gotten a lot of congratulations, a lot of "how do you feel?", a lot of "you got another PR!" and yet I felt oddly unsatisfied. While I've been reflecting on those 26.2 miles, I've quickly realized things I could change and ultimately I know and believe I had a 3:50:00 in me. It's been hard to explain to people the reality of feeling on top of the world excited about a PR and overwhelmed with how loved and supported I felt last Sunday, while feeling equally disappointed. I believe you can genuinely feel both, and that's where I'm at.
This past weekend I had a great conversation with Juli, she gets it- she knows the feeling I have within me. I hardly had to explain how I somehow felt both emotions so strongly, she said "You know you had it in you." And I do. Our conversation quickly switched from that to me saying, "You know what, lessons learned. I know what I need to change, and the best part about that is that next year I'll have even more in me and I'll blow that PR out of the water." It was the first time I said that out loud, and probably the first time I believed that I truly had it in me but that I also have the ability to work harder for the next year and do even better next fall.
That being said, the feeling of disappointment and the desire to work hard to achieve that 3:50:00 (OR LESS!) next year does not at all take away from the joy of the day. Running through the neighborhoods of the city of Chicago is something very special, it has become a 26.2 mile long party for this city. Somehow marathon morning brings out people of all the different neighborhoods, runners or not, finding a reason to celebrate and cheer on the people on the course. It truly is a beautiful experience. Not only that, but I was amazed to see how many of my close friends were on the sidelines with signs, cameras, oranges, and loud cheers supporting me and encouraging me to continue running strong. As I finished I truly was overwhelmed by how loved and supported I felt. Finally, the support of my dad. He truly is my biggest cheerleader and best coach, its more than just on marathon morning. He's the one I text when I struggled on a run, or ran an unexpected fast strong run, he's the one giving me weather updates weeks before the marathon. And last Sunday he was the one who decided to do his last training run for the Columbus Marathon (which was a BQ by 14 minutes for him!!) at my pace on the course of the Chicago Marathon, even when a policeman told him he needed to get off the course within one mile of running with me. He saw me struggle, and he heard my emotional attitude come out big time but he kept on running and truly he got me that PR.
So, cheers to another successful Chicago Marathon. I'm looking forward to the next several months of HALF marathon training, more yoga, more sunrises, getting stronger and faster and returning to marathon training in late spring.