It was a beautiful day.
Everything to the beginning of the race went smoothly.
Standing in the corral I felt like crying, I was so happy to be there and to be doing it.
I had my goals in mind and a plan for executing them. (I will just point out here that this is a racing mind-set for me. My focus at this point was on time.)
And then we started.
It took a long time to warm up, and there were a lot of bottlenecks. Okay, to be expected, no worries. By the end of mile three I was nearing 11:00 miles, slower than my #3 goal time but still with plenty of time to speed up.
(I also want to mention that while I had slept well the last few days and was feeling good, I did not feel any "zip". No hunger. No nerves. This is not actually how you want to feel if you have ambitious time goals in mind.)
We went through downtown. I found myself bothered by the noise - I didn't remember that from the time before, or being bothered by it. I was fully present to experience it, and I didn't like it. (I also didn't like two slogans that I got to see over and over again - "Worst parade ever" - and - "If this were easy it would be called 'your mom'". Grrr.)
Another drawback to the noise: I couldn't hear the beeps of my watch to alert me to my walk breaks. So I was keeping numbers in my head and checking my watch frequently. First, for the time of my next walk break, and second, to see if I was on pace for that mile. Not much fun, that. It also meant I wasn't really taking my walk breaks as I had planned...
I went through the zoo and up north, then turned into Boystown, renowned for their spectator entertainment. Looking at people, their outfits, the signs on the sidelines, the funny stuff. And so impressed with how many people were running "for" someone or something. I had raised money for Chicago Lights, the nonprofit arm of the church I work for, but I wasn't really running for them. Trying to accelerate to 10:50 miles and not able to do it consistently, mostly because of the crowd. I'd get going faster and then find myself in another bottleneck. Or have to slow down because of all the trash on the street after an aid station. I found myself watching my feet more than the people, or more than I'd wanted to, at least.
After mile 7 I was also watching for toilet facilities without lines. I knew from last time that I wouldn't find that for some time in. I was doing okay - no urgent need to pee - but also knew that I'd be more comfortable if I could use the facilities, and also that I'd then be able to stop thinking about it (since I probably wouldn't need to go again before the end). At mile 8 I thought I saw one and moved over, only to realize that there were lines after all. Well, I was stopped, might as well suck it up and deal with it, right? Then after waiting for a while this guy told us, "The toilets on the other side have no lines." I dashed over, and... bullshit. The lines were worse than before. I was on the street again so decided to just keep going. Mile 9 came and there were toilets again - with lines - and I just decided to hell with it. I stopped, chose a line... and waited. And waited. While the other lines moved. And then I waited some more.
At this point I had my first breakthrough. I was not going to meet my goal #3. There was no way I could make up the time lost over the remaining miles. I had to let go. I didn't want to spend this marathon like my first one, worrying, fretting about how fast I was going and whether I'd meet my goals and completely in my head and in pain and miserable. I decided to stop tracking my pace, to make sure I took every walk break, and to enjoy myself as I went along.
And so I did.
To be honest, I still kept vague track of my pace, along the lines of "what's my 1/2 marathon split?" and "how long did it take me to run miles 15-20?", all in service of the larger questions, "can I finish under 4:50?" (unlikely) and "can I finish under 5 hours?" (hopefully). But I really didn't focus on it the way I had at first. I enjoyed the sunshine. I slapped hands with small children. I smiled. I felt myself slowing down as I entered the last 6 miles and I didn't worry about it.
(Although at this point I did start saying to myself, well, with X miles to go, if I maintain an 11:00 pace, I can finish under 5:00 with time to spare - and also noticed that window of time was shrinking with each mile. At this point I put my music on in the hopes of giving myself a little boost. I didn't mind not hitting my #3 and #2 goals, but I did really want to finish under 5 hours.)
But again, no worries. I enjoyed my music yet turned it off when I passed a cheer zone. The number of spectators was growing again and the energy was high. I looked around at all of us and I was so proud of us all. We had come so far. We were going to finish. We were amazing. The volunteers were amazing. The spectators - and the marching bands and the drill teams and the dancers and the people handing out candy and oranges and pretzels (which I should have taken and didn't) - were all amazing. The city and all that goes into an event like this - was amazing. This wasn't about me, it had nothing to do with me, it was about all of us and what an amazing thing life is and celebrating that life.
Of course I was hurting. That goes without saying. Every time I stopped it was harder to start again and when I did I was slower than before. But then I got moving and it went smoother and I still had moments where I felt good and buoyant, even. And grateful. Oh, so grateful.
And then, at mile 23, I hit The Wall. I started running again after a walk break and found I could not run. And I stopped. And walked.
And had a moment of panic, "I can't run, what do I do?"
And then a good song came on my iPod and I thought, well, now I walk. And walk with pride. And with a smile. And with purpose and energy and love for everyone around me.
And I did. I turned off my watch (wasn't going to make 5 hours now) and waved at the people who were waving and chatted with a pregnant lady I came up to. And then after nearly a mile of this I thought, well, my feet hurt, and this is going to take a really long time if I walk the rest of the way, so I started running again, slowly, stopping when I needed to but always starting up again, watching my shadow to see that my form was still good, if slow, and thinking, maybe I can even run the rest of the way in. Maybe I can even run a little faster that last mile.
And then I entered the last half mile, and the pain struck. Sharp. On the right side of my right knee. Oh! I had to stop. I walked a little, then gingerly started again. Ran another 100 meters and it hit again. Okay. Breathe deep. This is how it's going to be. Go slow. Walk if you have to. And then the hill and the signs: 400 meters... 300 meters... Still running, so slowly, not wanting to stop. 200 meters... 100 meters... and the finish line is right there and I am crossing it running so help me God.
And I did.
And I was never before so grateful for the volunteers at the end. And the sunshine. And the heat blanket and the medal and the volunteer with the tape to hold the heat blanket together. And beer. (Though that didn't sit well so I gave that up.) And then the refreshment box from Mariano's and the ease of gear check and sitting on the ground, on my blanket, in the sun, slowly changing my socks and shoes and getting into warm clothes and eating the food from the box and drinking my very own sports drink I'd brought with me. And reading the text messages The Dude had started sending to me once my pace started slowing. And then walking to the Brown Line and getting a seat and riding home in the sun, talking to my parents who'd been keeping track the whole time via Facebook, which is how The Dude knew I was slowing. And then coming home.
And all so happy and proud of me and of my city and of the day. My epic adventure.