My Journey from 50 to 26.2: The Chicago Marathon Chapter

Chicago Marathon 2015
Chicago Marathon 2015

This is my honest opinion of my performance during the Chicago Marathon on October 11, 2015. Before you get too far into this post please know that I am in no way putting down or condemning those who walk for fitness.

I’ve really struggled with people saying “great work, you’ve run a marathon”.  Well just because I have a medal doesn’t mean I ran a marathon.  I finished 26.2 miles in a race setting and crossed both a start and a finish line.  The 26.2 miles and 6 hours in between are sort of a blur at this moment.

So to come clean up front, I am what I consider a true back-of-the-pack runner.  Some people like to say they are BOTP runners so they feel better about what they perceive as lack of speed; they are often the people who pass me in races.  I wasn’t born a natural athlete.  I was always the very last person picked for school gym classes, I have the coordination of a drunk kangaroo and the grace of a one legged chicken walking on a rocky beach. So for me to not be a fast runner is just a natural extension of my athleticism (or lack there of).

I train hard and consistently because I don’t have a choice.  My body doesn’t learn and react to new movements or new distances without lots of time and effort put behind the training.  My body also doesn’t like to be fed new foods on runs.  Trial and error are the only ways I can teach myself what does and does not work and that’s what I spent the summer doing.

Coming into the Chicago Marathon, I felt I was on a good footing mentally and physically.  I had practiced running long distances, pre-run and post-run fueling, and I felt comfortable with my gear.  I felt like I had done everything that was asked of me to get ready for this big day.  But alas it was not meant to be “my” day.

I’m not exactly sure where it all went wrong, what factors ultimately did my race in. The day started like most race days do: with giddy anticipation of getting to the start line.  I ate a small breakfast at the wonderful Balboa hospitality tent.  I relaxed and chatted with other runners, and I didn’t really feel bad or nervous (maybe this should have been a sign?).  When it was time to head to the start line I did get a bit weepy (my practice cry) but once I found my corral I had the pleasure of talking with two ladies who I met via Facebook. It was a great surprise to have been able to actually find them. We chatted, hugged and wished each other well on our respective journeys.

At 7:30 AM the gun went off and the corral moved at a snails pace towards the start line.  I felt great.  As the race wound its way north through the city, over the Chicago river and into our first neighborhoods my pace appeared to be spot on (I soon figured out that GPS and tall buildings don’t work well together).   The din of the spectators moved us through the streets, one block after another.  A left turn, a right turn, through the neighborhoods named  Greektown, South Loop, Boystown, Pilsen and Chinatown.  I’m not sure today if I could ever distinguish one from another, but they were all fabulous.

2015 Chicago Marathon Course Map
2015 Chicago Marathon Course Map

Sometime around mile 8 or mile 9 it happened, the “Thing” that started the end of my great day.  I nearly earned my runners vomit badge.  I walked to the bushes thinking that I was going to be sick right there, right then.  If you’ve run for any period of time, you’ve experienced what I’ll call gastro distress and most likely you’ve learned to run through it, but this was the worse it’s ever been.  It came on quickly and made me stop where I was.  Once I got myself together, I took a deep breath and tried to head back out.  But it wasn’t meant to be, every time I’d get back up to pace the nausea would start again and again.

I fought this until sometime around mile 10 where I decided to start walking it out.  I thought in my mind that walking one entire mile would settle my stomach and get my nerves back in check.  After all my only goal was to finish this race.  But in my head I had a time goal that I wanted to make and I knew the more I walked the further away my time goad was getting.

Mile 10, 11, 12 and finally onto 13 I just struggled to keep up a decent pace. My stomach continued to cramp, now my back and hamstrings were joining it in.  I got sad, angry and frustrated but was still determined to make something out of this day.  After all, it was the Chicago Marathon, and I had told something like a million people that I was going to run; I can’t let everyone down.  I remember sending a text to my husband asking his permission to walk the rest of the race.  I needed to have my efforts validated, I needed someone to tell me it was okay to not run the rest of this race.  I needed a cyber-hug and I got one.

What I didn’t realize at this time was that I had a whole bunch of people virtually looking out for me.  All of the people whom I had told I was running a marathon were following my progress online.  Soon my phone started to vibrate in my hand and I saw text after text of encouraging words, “we believe in you”, “you’ve got this”, “cry all you want, but finish this thing” and one of my favorites, “it’s your marathon, cry if you want to”.

I remember a point at mile 17 thinking I was never going to run another marathon ever again.  I was poised to text a group of people who I’m going to run my next marathon with and tell them there was no way in on this earth that I was ever going to run another 26.2 freaking miles again.  Then I came around the corner and saw a man on the ground with medical help around him.  I thought to myself, “I’m doing better than that guy, I can finish this” (I know, I know, NOT going to heaven for THAT one).

As the miles clicked on, my resolve waned more than once.  But through all of the eclectic neighborhoods, past thousands of people cheering us on I felt like I was too strong to give up.  I nearly crawled into the medical tent around mile 18 or 19 to wave the white flag and be done with the torture, but then I thought of the conversation that would be had.

Me: “I need a ride back to Grant Park, I can’t finish the race.”
Nurse: “Why, what’s wrong?”
Me:  “I’m tired, my body aches and I just want the torture to be done.”
Nurse:  “You’re running a marathon, what do you expect?  Don’t you think everyone out                                there is tired, that’s no excuse to give up.”

So off I went, walking, running, often nearly sauntering in between dry heaves and hamstring muscle spasms.  I knew at mile 20.5 someone would be waiting for me, if I could just make it that far I’d be okay.

I watched the mile 20 marker come into view. It would only be another half of a mile before I familiar face would appear.  After that, it’s only a 10K to the finish… and I can do a 10K!!  And then it happened. Before I knew it she was there, right in front of me.  The beautiful lady in the chicken hat with a thingamabob next to her.  She was a sight for tired, road weary eyes.

The famous "Chicken Hat Cheerer".
The famous “Chicken Hat Cheerer”.

The Chicken Hat Cheerer, also known as Laura Ozo , is an enthusiastic cheerleader and runner.  I walked up and hugged her. Up until this point, she was just a profile picture on Facebook but I felt like I’d known her forever.  As I sobbed, she calmly looked me in the eyes and said I was going to finish, that she believed in me and knew I could do this.  I sobbed some more and then she offered me something I’d been craving for many hours: an orange.  I’m not sure why, but I had developed a profound need for an orange and a Diet Coke at that point.  Although she didn’t have a Diet Coke to offer me, she handed THE sandwich bag of goodness.  I cried some more as I stuffed those orange slices into my mouth, they were the best oranges of my life!!  Finally it was time to go, we hugged one more time and she sent me on my way.

I figured at this point my crying would have stopped but apparently not, the flood gates had been opened and throughout the rest of the race I would periodically break down crying.  Some say it was because I knew I was going to meet my goal, others says it was the adrenaline rush of the day that made me into a walking human tissue incinerator that afternoon.  I’m still not 100% sure why I cried so much and so often, but boy did I.

The text messages continued, the love I felt helped carry me to the last mile.  The friendships I Pooh Friendshiphad developed over the last year as a member of both the Mickey Milers and Team Shenanigans along with my ever-so-patient and supportive husband was coming through.  I actually found moments to laugh and smile in the face of so much discomfort.

Finally it happened. It was there: the Chicago Marathon finish line.  I tried to sprint to it but my body was too worn, too beat at that point, until an angel tapped my on my left shoulder and told me that I’d come too far to walk this thing out.  She grabbed my hand and together we ran in, over the finish line with my arms raised in victory.  I’m not sure who that angel was but I did manage to catch up with her and thank her, then she was gone.  Just like that, gone into the crowd of red shirted volunteers and other tired marathoners.

Yes I said it, “other MARATHONERS.”  I am, for all intents and purposes, a real marathoner.  I didn’t run the race like most people would have expected me to.  I didn’t finish in a time that I’m proud of, but I met my main goal and that was to cross the finish line under my own power.   I also discovered that I have a greater willpower then I had realized and some of the best friends a girl could ask for.

Maybe this wasn’t my day to run a marathon, maybe it was my day to learn how many people around me care and support me.

Run when you Can

I am still planning on running a January marathon and at least one more in 2016.  I don’t know what these races have in store for me but I know I have a strong group of friends to bring along on the journey.  If you are like me and you doubt your abilities to complete a challenge, try one, you just might surprise yourself.

You can listen to Laura discuss her experience on the Team Shenanigans Podcast, and follow her entire training journey to finishing her first marathon.

Laura Bailey

About Author:

Laura began running in November of 2013. What started as an innocent treadmill workout has evolved into a life of training, racing and new friendships. Laura is currently in the midst of the early season race registration for 2016 (run them all!!!) and will be targeting the 2016 Marine Corp Marathon and the 2017 Dopey Challenge as her upcoming goal races. Aside from running, Laura enjoys diving amidst tropical islands and fantasizes about being a real gardener. She shares her New England home with her husband Doug, two step-sons and five (yes 5) dogs.

6 thoughts on “My Journey from 50 to 26.2: The Chicago Marathon Chapter

  1. If I can do this, I am totally convinced that anyone given some missing common sense and six months of intense training can do this as well. Good Luck on your first half, it’s my favorite distance.

  2. I laughed at your description of your athletic ability. Nice job completing it and thank you for sharing! I’m working on training for my first half marathon and look forward to reading more.

  3. I am so proud of you Laura! I also see the same thing that happened to me as far as time – i had a time i thought i could do but that went out the window and i finished just under 6 hours. During the race i thought never again, after the race i thought i can do better….mental illness i tell ya!

    1. Thank you B!!

      What is it with us, why do we never learn? Why would I ever want to voluntarily do something this ridiculous again? Think about it, most normal people would get the hint after 6 1/2 hours of torture on their bodies that this isn’t a good idea. Us…we register for more.

  4. A marathoner is someone who completes the marathon, not runs the entire race. Following Galloway still makes a marathoner even though his plans have walk breaks. You finished the marathon, you are a marathoner.

    1. Thanks Rob. I guess I had always envisioned having more of a swagger after crossing the finish line. But i don’t, guess I’ll have to keep trying.

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