2016 Chicago Marathon Recap

It’s been a week since the Chicago Marathon and life is returning to normal. We returned home on Monday and this week went by very fast with fall house work, car repairs, hunting and of course a return to training for next month’s New York City Marathon.

This year’s Chicago Marathon was another great experience filled with many emotions, as always. I was heartbroken that Jen didn’t get to experience it for herself. She was a great spectator and my biggest fan again this year, but it would have been nice to have her running. Next year!

I trained for Chicago to be my goal race this season, looking to improve on my best marathon time from last year. I had three goals in mind – my “A” goal was a sub 3:10:00; “B” was a sub 3:15:00; and “C” was a new PR regardless. I had run more miles than ever in my life and felt good when I arrived in the starting corral.

I joined the 3:10 pace group in the corral and enjoyed the sunrise lighting up the Chicago skyline. Before I knew it, the National Anthem had been sung and the race was officially underway at 7:30 a.m. I crossed the start line at 7:32 on my journey through the 29 neighborhoods that comprise the course.

The race started smoothly despite the congestion. I wasn’t right in the pacing pack, as I had a hard time jostling for position so I just kept them in sight and waited it out. Slowly, I was able to catch the group through maneuvers and with the aid of water stations. Last year I only stated with them for 11 miles because I felt I wanted to run faster. This year I stayed with them until I couldn’t run any faster.

Around mile 19, I just couldn’t keep pace any longer and slowly began to drift back. I felt my muscles starting to twitch and tighten and knew from my previous races what was coming – painful cramps. What impressed me the most this race was my ability to fight off the cramps and continue on, albeit at a slower pace. The last 10K was a fight more mentally than physically. I was fighting back cramps, but more importantly, I was fighting my own thoughts of self-doubt.

My “A” goal was long gone but I knew looking at my overall time and current splits I could still break 3:15:00. I continued on, sometimes at what felt like a walk (although in reality my splits were very respectable, slowing to a worst of 8:03/mile) until I saw the sign – 1 mile to go.

I gave the last mile everything I had left. I  could feel my legs tightening quickly and my stride becoming unnatural, almost painful. As I approached the finish, climbed the last hill and rounded the final corner I could see the finish line. I had 200 meters to go, less than a quarter mile, half a lap around a track. I passed the 200 meter sign when suddenly I hit the concrete as both legs seized up with cramps. “Well shit!”, I thought.

I made my way to my feet, and hobbled the final distance. As I crossed the finish line I raised my hands into the air celebrating all I had endured this year – the ups and downs, time away from family, the lonely miles, the horrible runs with negative thoughts, self-doubt, my fundraising for Team Up!, my family and friends who supported and encouraged me. I had a lot to celebrate!

I looked up at the clock, then down at my Garmin. 3:15:12. “Well Shit!” I missed out automatically qualifying for next year’s race by 12 seconds. Those same 12 seconds I spent on the concrete 200 meters away. Initially, nothing but disappointment crept into my mind. I thought I had failed.

But then I remembered something important. A marathon is in fact a race, someone wins, always. But it is more a test of heart and soul, determination, and sheer will power than skill. I didn’t fail.

I learned I could push myself to be better, faster and more determined through months of hard work. I learned more about overcoming adversity training for and running a marathon than I ever thought I could. I learned how important having goals are and sharing those goals with the ones you love.

Last weekend, I met amazing people through Team Up! and got to share my personal story of Autism with them and together we shared the 2016 Chicago Marathon.

2,323 people crossed the finish line before me, but I finished. In the process I took 2:22 (min/sec.) off my best time. I left the post race party doing a little dance (literally), enjoying the music with my hands in the air. It may not have been the outcome I wanted, but in the end, I had a lot to celebrate!

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