Tried It Tuesday: Running A Marathon

22 October 2013

 Tried It Tuesday: Running a marathon
On October 13th I ran the Chicago Marathon.  This is my story.  
Spoiler:  I finished.
This was not my first marathon.  I've actually run three before this one, but I figured that this would be an interesting perspective for a Tried It Tuesday.  

Saturday:  My family spent the night with a friend down in the city (Chicago).  This is so much better than having to drop around five hundred bucks on a hotel in the city.  They normally raise prices for big events, but we have a friend that has graciously allowed us to stay with her.  

Sunday, 5:15 am:  Wake up and get dressed.  I knew it would be a great running day based on weather temperature so I went with shorts and a singlet.  To give you some perspective, last year I ran in running pants (yes, tights), gloves, hat, and long sleeves.  You just never know what it is going to be when it comes to October.

The day before my wife stopped at Goodwill and bought me a flannel shirt (long sleeve) and some awful pajama bottoms with ugly early-90's footballs all over it.  I did not look nice---but I was warm.

6:05:  I rode the El to Grant Park where it all begins.  It's funny seeing people not prepared for the coldness of the morning.  I might look like a dork, but I'm warm for the next hour before the run.

6:15:  Trying to force down a breakfast bar when you're not really hungry is difficult, but Gatorade helps.  Over the next hour I only get about half finished.  I'm not a morning eater.  Normally I drink coffee, but that is not the best plan of action because it will make me go to the bathroom within about 30 minutes.  I hate Port-O-Potties.

6:55:  I made it through security.  Not too much different from past years.  Everyone is civil and organized (and excited).  We've put in close to 500 miles to work up to this point.

7:20:  Ten minutes till race time.  My incredible pajama pants come off.  This year the Chicago Marathon officials have brought enormous bins to throw your extra clothes in.  Most of the clothes are given to charity.  Very smart move by race officials.

7:33:  I begin to cross the start line.  I'm about 15 feet from Mayor Rahm Emmauel.  We catch eyes.  I point at him and smile.  He points back at me.  I nod with approval and give a thumbs up.  He smiles back and continues pointing.  I'm pretty sure we just solved the Chicago Public School problems.  Great Work.

7:34:  There is construction everywhere for the start.  Normally the crowds are huge and it is a pretty emotional beginning.  Not this year, but it doesn't really matter.  The race is on.

7:38:  People begin to pee under a bridge.  Tons of people.  Some guy says out loud "won't they get arrested?"  I look and him and say "there are no laws in a marathon."

Mile 1-8:  The biggest thing I've learned about running in these races is that 26.2 miles is long.  It's a tremendous amount of time to be doing anything, but when you see people sprint ahead I just have to laugh.  This is a race of attrition and you've also got to try and manage your feelings as much as possible.

The first 6-7 miles are excellent.  The crowds for this race have always been incredible.  They line almost the entire race with support pouring out from their voices.  This is what really keeps me going.  You see, I'm a people watcher so I'll get to do it for the next 26 miles.  Throughout the race I'll constantly laugh at posters, performers, and anything else with a little creativity.  

When I train I listen to a lot of different podcasts from NPR, sports, film discussion, and book talks.  When I'm on the treadmill I watched a lot of movies and Breaking Bad.  Running this marathon is a completely different beast.  I feed off of the crowd and I don't turn on any music until about mile 24.5
My girls make their own posters for me a couple of nights before the race.
MILE 9:  I see my wife and kids.  They're holding their signs they made.  I LOVE IT.  I stop and talk with them for about 2 minutes.  We're actually in Boystown so the place is alive with music, crowds, and cheering.  My wife hands me my prepared bag of candy.  This small bag last until about mile 21.

The candy is basically just calories to keep me going and one piece will literally stick to the top of my mouth for about 10-12 minutes.  This is perfect because I don't like the goo's or other energy snacks they hand out.  This is also the last time I'll see my family until it's over.

MILE 10:  Volunteers are handing out cardboard pieces covered in Vasoline.  Many people need it because they're not prepared for the chafing.  But--You should always be prepared for the chafing.  I'm good to go.

MILE 12-13:  Crowds really pick up through downtown and we prepare to cross the midpoint.  I love this section because it's when miles completed are more than miles left.  

Plus, there is a great stretch when you can see waves of runners in front of you because you're running on a decline throughout almost half a mile.  Just incredible.

MILE 14:  I begin to feel the pain of running on roads and making quick steps around people that stop in the race.  Both of these are expected, but the pain on my outside of my left knee is beginning to grow, but all I can do is deal with it.

The real key in this race is understanding your body because it plays tricks on you worse than your older brother did as a kid.  What is pain, what is injury, or what is harmful?  These are all the questions you've got to be able to comprehend as you become weaker the longer the race goes on.

MILE 17:  There's a couple of turns on the route that will play with your head.  Around this time you turn back and forth towards the city all while thinking "It's almost done" but another sharp right turn is the reminder that you've still got almost 10 more to go.

It's a think point, or maybe a little farther, when I begin to think that I really don't want to be doing this race.  That thought fades and another takes its place.  My mind ran through the gauntlet of Breaking Bad theories, what I should do for my fantasy football team, and a lot of time was spent on the conversation I had with the Gates Foundation on the impact of social media with teachers.

Yes, no matter what you are doing--it always comes back to your profession.  This can be a sick and twisted race.

MILE 20+  At this point you realize that six miles is manageable and you've been there before.  BUT IT IS STILL SIX MILES.

The crowds around these miles do an excellent job of providing food, drinks, and energy.  I grab a couple of oranges and pass on the beer that is being handed out.  I tried a couple of pretzels but spit them out--like sawdust caked the inside of my mouth.
Game Faces!
MILE 22-24:  These are kind of a blur.  There's a long stretch where you're left with the silence of you breathing and the faint sound of cars driving on an interstate next to you.  The out-of-body experience begins to occur and time is lost.  You're aware, but at the same time blissfully unaware until you spot Medical volunteers in the middle of the road.  A 60+ year-old man has fallen, his face is sun-dried and fresh blood falls from his forehead, down the bridge of his nose and onto his clothing.
My first thought running past him went to the immortal photo of the Boston Marthoner that collapsed to the ground when the bombs exploded and he's suddenly surrounded by police and billowing smoke.  My mind knew this wasn't the case, but it was the first connection I made.  Surreal. 
This is the race.  

MILE 24.5:  I run to the nearest Port-o-Potty.  I'm actually pretty happy that I've got to go, this means I'm somewhat hydrated.  Personally, I'm past the point of being "too strong" to stop, if I've got to stop I will.  Besides, I'm pretty sure that earlier in the race a woman had pooped her pants a little because she chose not to stop.  I was not going to be that person.

Then you've got to take into account that stopping a continuous running motion that I've had for almost three and a half hours is interesting (difficult)--especially in a confined space.  It feels like the walls are moving in and out when I'm standing in the stall.  You try not to focus on one particular object but the vertigo-like feeling is unreal.  Within a minute  or so I'm back on the trail.

The Last MILE:  Crowds begin to be your comfort.  It's at this point that I'll turn on some music to get a little more adrenaline going, but I've got to be careful because I can feel cramps in the top of both calves.  Changing my stride now would cause me to fall over.

At this point I saw a runner fall over from some kind of leg cramp.  He was pulling himself across the road on his back trying to get them to go away.
This is also the point in the race/trek where you have no control over your emotions.  There are parts when I want to cry, scream, or go bananas.  At this point I've logged hundreds miles and hours for this final push.  I feel liking pushing myself to finish faster, but savoring the crowd cheering is part of my reward.  The emotion carries (and has carried me) to the end of this race every single time.  It is one hell of a final kick.
The Finish:  This year with the extra security there were really no fans for the last 400 meters.  This didn't bother me because I was interested in seeing the safety considerations they put in place.  This includes the stands at the end.  Bare.  It was unusual and a little unexpected, but I'd done this before so it wasn't a bother.  
I thanked every volunteer I spoke with as I was handed my medal and drinks.  Ten minutes later I was with my wife and kids sharing stories and the ups and downs of running.  My job was complete.
I love the marathon.  

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