It was pitch black when I woke up at 4am on marathon morning. The silence of the city drifted through the windows, by which I mean—a sort of humming, punctuated silence that never quiets completely. There was something already present in the air, something thrumming around me: excitement, anticipation. The city knew what was happening that day.
Realizing I had no chance of falling back asleep, I got up to pee for the umpteenth time. (Good hydration!)
Before I knew it, my two sisters & I were awake and ready to go. My mom snapped a picture of us before we left, remarking on our uncanny ability to look happy and excited at 5am with the prospect of running 26.2 miles weighing on us.
Ready to go run the Chicago Marathon!
What can we say? Runners: We’re a special breed.
It took about an hour of walking + train travel to get downtown near Grant Park, where the race started. We stopped in at the nearby Hilton to drop off our bags with my older sister’s running club, the Alpine Runners.
We followed the signs to find the right room…
Note: Follow the yellow sign.
Funnily enough, they wouldn’t let us into the elite breakfast.
It calmed me to meet and talk to a few of the Alpine Runners as we prepped ourselves to head to the start corrals. I shook out any nerves I had. For the time being, anyway.
Brandi and Lara headed up to the wave one corrals (they are speedy) while I went to my entrance for the [slower] corrals.
I kept an eye out for my friend Jessica, who was in the same corral as me, while I waited and stretched in the crowd. I figured there was no way I’d be able to spot her…
The corrals were packed!
And then suddenly the crowds parted—and there she was! Yay. By this time, I was definitely getting super nervous—it was finally hitting me that I was actually going to RUN A MARATHON—so it helped to have a friend and someone to chat with while we waited over an hour to start.
Waiting with thousands of other runners to start.
The first wave of runners took off running at 7:30, but our corral wasn’t set to start ‘til 8am. Finally, at 8:08 I crossed the starting line and the marathon had BEGUN!
Oh my gosh. Is this really happening after all this time?
I quickly got split up from my friend Jessica and her running partner, but I knew that would happen as soon as I started my 10 min. run/2 min. walk plan anyway. I had my headphones and running playlist all set to go, but as the hordes of cheering people and music started filling my eardrums, I knew nothing on my playlist would match that.
The pure energy from the crowds, the music blaring over loudspeakers, the runners all around marching to the beat of some unknown drum, the sun rising brightly, the crisp and cool air—it just couldn’t get any more perfect.
I decided to just take it all in for the first 13 miles, and soak up as much of the experience as I could while I still felt great. I knew the second half of the race would be tougher, and I’d need to focus more on how I felt, making sure I was staying fueled, keeping a strong form, etc.
But for now, I would simply enjoy the ride.
Action shot – taken while running!
I got 10 minutes in and it was time for my first 2-minute walk break (all in effort to keep my rehabbed ITBS from bothering me). Let me tell you, it was mentally painful to stop and walk already. I was so amped to run, the last thing I wanted to do was stop! Every time I hit a walk break, I got to the outermost edge and made sure nobody was directly behind me, so I wouldn’t cut anyone off. It was so packed though, that I nearly always felt annoying and in the way of the other runners. I also felt people in the crowd eyeing me up, and actually a lot of spectators wouldn’t even look at me—they were probably thinking, “Dang, it’s this early and she has to walk already? That girl’s never gonna make it!”
But, I knew it was the right plan for me, and I had to do it to make it to the end. So, every 10 minutes or so, I diligently stopped for my 2 minutes of walking. (I admit, sometimes I’d get to 90 seconds and decide that was long enough!)
Suddenly, I was crossing the halfway point of the race. Mile 13. It sounds crazy, but I remember thinking to myself, It only feels like I’ve been running for half an hour. That is how inspiring, entertaining and motivating the crowd support was in this race (and, I suppose a nod to my training paying off). It was absolutely amazing to feel like 13 miles had literally passed in what seemed like the blink of an eye!
Around this time, I also spotted my fiancé on the side of the course, and got a little good-luck hug and smooch. Even with thousands of other people yelling support to you mile after mile, seeing a loved one makes all the difference in the world. I took off trotting from there with doubled ambition.
By mile 15, I started to get a bit tight and achy. Considering my comeback in the prior 6 weeks or so before the marathon didn’t include a ton of running, 15 miles was a lot of pounding that my body wasn’t used to.
I also realized, at this junction, that math is not my strong suit…as I had miscalculated how many Shot Blocks to bring for all 26 miles. I was going to run out of fuel at around 18 miles. Marathon rookie mistake. It all worked out, as the race volunteers were handing out bananas later in the race. I was able to eat some banana, and thankfully my stomach was fine. As a fun bonus, I felt like I was in a real-life Mario Kart race as I ran around trying not to slip on banana peels. Those suckers really ARE slippery!
At mile 18, I had the realization that, Hey, this is the furthest I’ve ever run! Awesome!
I probably looked better than I felt. Silly runner.
That marveling thought was quickly followed by another realization:
Hey, I still need to run 8 more miles though. Awesome…
I hadn’t hit The Wall yet, and felt fairly decent, so I wasn’t worrying. But by mile 20, which you hear so often as really being that threshold to The Wall, I started to feel it. I was really starting to ache all over: in my feet, legs, back, shoulders… And every time I stopped for my walk break, it was becoming harder and harder to start again—not mentally, but physically. I was literally groaning out loud in pain as I’d start to transition from the walk to running. I told myself to stop being a diva, but I couldn’t control it.
At mile 22, after my 2-minute walk break, I started running again and decided that if I stopped to walk anymore, there was a good chance that my body would not be able to start running again. There were people all over the place walking at this point, and ironically enough, this is when I decided I needed to STOP walking.
Those last 3 miles felt literally as long as the entire rest of the race. My body ached, I was tired, my ration of Shot Blocks was gone, and I was nearing 5 hours of running. FIVE! It was 100% heart, soul and mind that got me through those last couple miles.
And then, with a mile to go, I started hearing a familiar tune over some speakers someone had set up on the sidewalk… One of my all-time favorite songs, Kings of Leon’s “Fans” was blaring. I felt a huge grin transform my face, feeling like a goon, and probably looking like a freak as I shuffled along. But I didn’t care, that song was just what I needed to push me along for a couple more minutes.
I was still smiling as the notes drifted away behind me, when all of the sudden I heard, “AMANDA!” out of the roaring crowd, with a half mile to go to the finish.
Happy to see some familiar faces at the end of the race.
My family & friends were there on the side of the course, screaming and yelling for me. They later said they were surprised to see me at that point looking SO happy and smiling! Their cheers pushed me on for that last half of a mile, and my legs were flying beneath me, pushing me faster and faster. I was relishing the moment, oddly lamenting that I was about to be done, my goal was about to be achieved—but at the same time, I just wanted to be done. I was so close.
Turning the corner, there was a bit of a hill at the end, and I wove in and out of people as I continued to pick up my pace. I don’t know where all that extra energy and speed came from in the end, but it rallied me forward faster and faster and then… Then it was there in big, bright letters:
With whatever strength I had left, I lifted my arms up and smiled as I crossed the finish line.
I am a runner.
I am a MARATHONER!
Chicago Marathon 2013 Finisher Medal
Three sisters = Three marathon runners.
Final clock time: 5:06:43