Friday, December 19, 2008

Sunny (dammit!) Chicago

Chicago Marathon 2008

My road to Chicago started back in the spring when I was talking to some other friends about which marathon they were going to do in the fall. When Sam mentioned Chicago, I was intrigued…I’d always wanted to run it, and I was eager to find a new race to use as a Boston Qualifier.

My race prep was anything but normal – I did a whole lot of substituting races for training runs, and I had a great time doing it. My tempo runs felt fabulous, my track workouts were amazing, and I felt really confident about Chicago.

I headed to Chicago on Friday morning, meeting my parents partway there, in Denver. Once in Chicago, we checked into our hotel (the Crowne Plaza, in Greektown) and then we met with Sam, Christine, Leslie, and her family for Chicago-style pizza.

Yummy Chicago-style pizza!

Giordano’s was great, although I’ll never eat more than one piece of that pizza again! We decided to all walk back to the hotel to let the pizza digest. We walked past the Sears Tower, crossed the river, and made plans for the next morning, when we would go to the Expo.

I got up early on Saturday morning, and I went for a very short run – about a mile – just to loosen up my legs and check out the weather. It was nice out, and I felt good, so I was pretty stoked. Mom, Dad, and I met Sam and Christine downstairs and we all cabbed it over to the Hilton to meet Lesley and take the shuttle to the Expo.

Sam and me on the way to the expo.

Once we were there, we got our race packets, which was a breeze because we were there so early.

Ready to run at the Chicago Marathon expo. See that little sign above us? That's the alert'll come in handy later.

Then we went to check out the merchandise. As I was walking through the Nike official race clothing area, I somehow managed to step on a toothpick that was sticking out of the carpet. It went through my shoe and into my foot, which left me cringing in pain (almost in tears!) and bleeding.

The toothpick in my shoe

I WAS PISSED – I’M SUPPOSED TO BE RUNNING A FRIGGIN’ MARATHON TOMORROW!!!! One of the girls working there was nice enough to help me find something to clean my foot, along with a Band Aid to cover it up, but that was about it. Nobody was too concerned about it, and nobody seemed to be able to do anything for me. On top of all that, they had run out of my size in the women’s track jacket that I wanted. I almost lost it right then and there, but I composed myself and decided to go get my race shirt (not so impressive) and goody bag (even less impressive).

After that, I went to sign up for the Nike pace team – they handed me a bib for my back and a super cool pace tattoo to wear on my forearm.

My cool tattoo
My dad and I noticed that there were toothpicks all over the ground (apparently from one of the food booths). Being concerned about the incident that I had just had, I looked for someone of authority to let them know about my foot and about the toothpicks-on-the-floor situation so it wouldn’t happen to anyone else. Unfortunately, the guy who was genuinely concerned had no pull, so I doubt they did anything about it. Oh well, I made it through the rest of the Expo unscathed, so I was alright.

After the Expo, we headed back to the Hilton, and then we decided to look for a place to eat lunch. Mom, Dad, and I, and Sam and Christine went to the Eleven City Diner and had some pretty decent food – I had my standard turkey sandwich, while the others had things that looked quite a bit more interesting - a tuna melt, a latke, and some really great beef sandwich. While I really wanted to have something good, I decided it was better to play it safe (thought the turkey sandwich WAS pretty fantastic!). After lunch, we went back to the hotel to rest for a while. My mom made signs for the next day, and I relaxed for most of the afternoon.

Lesley and her family were kind enough to invite us to dinner at the apartment they had rented – some safe homemade pasta sounded like a much better option than restaurant food, and I’m sure everything was pretty crowded, given the huge race crowd that was in town. The apartment was awesome – the 27th floor of a place overlooking the lake and the Start/Finish area of the race. The company was good too – family and friends, and especially Lesley and Steve’s adorable baby Addy! The food was perfect – simple pasta with tomato sauce, and another pasta dish with kale and sausage. Breadsticks, salad, and cookies were the perfect finishing touches. At around 8:00, we decided it was time to head home, so we made peanut butter sandwiches for the morning and headed back to the hotel. I chatted with a couple of people on the phone, set up my race gear, watched some TV, and then did my best to get some sleep before race morning.

The morning of the race was nice. It was clear and calm, and not too cold. This worried us. All week long, they’d been promising rain or at least cooler temperatures, but the storm they were expecting never came, so we were left with “too nice” weather on race morning. But there were enough other things to worry about that we kind of forgot about this little factor. We walked over to the bag check area, dropped off our stuff, and then headed over toward the start corrals. We all got in line for the bathroom, and when I finally got to the port-a-potty, I realized (too late) that there was no toilet paper. I had to improvise, but it was the kind of thing that could not go undone, so I made it work. By that time, we had to get to the corrals for the start, so we said our good byes and good lucks, and found our appropriate places in our corrals.

I don’t remember much about this part of the morning…I spent a good deal of time trying to find Jen Valdivia or anyone else I knew, but it wasn’t happening, so I just hung out in the middle of the crowd. It was then that I noticed the security guard standing off to the side SMOKING A CIGARETTE! One of the 3:40 pacers and I looked at each other with a look of disbelief and rolled our eyes, and soon after, the gun went off and we were on our way.

The first part of the course sent us through a tunnel, and then winding through downtown for a couple of miles. I expected to see my parents at mile 1 and mile 3, and I scoured the crowd looking for them, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. I figured I must have just missed them since there were so many spectators, but I later found out that they never even made it there. At around mile 2 I saw a sign that showed the temperature at 70 degrees, and I knew that it could mean trouble, but I still wasn’t really sweating yet, so I didn’t think much of it. I just tried to keep my pace under control. The crowd was a huge boost, and I found myself frequently dipping under the 8 minute-per-mile mark, so I had to really concentrate on keeping myself around 8:15.

After our little loop around downtown, we started heading north, next to the lake. Most of the course was in the shade, and I was feeling really good. I was gradually adding to my lead on the 3:40 pace group, which made me feel more confident, and I was doing my best to stay hydrated, drinking Gatorade and water at every stop. I really enjoyed the stretch going north, and especially right at the turn – the leaves were starting to change, and it looked like fall (although it didn’t FEEL much like it!). Heading back south, we came through the gay neighborhood – I have to give some serious props to the Frontrunners – they put on a damn good show at their water stop! It was a good distraction from the run, and since I was running by myself, I was happy for anything I could get.

We were still in the shade when we made our turn West, toward Greektown. I expected my parents to be there again, at mile 13, so I was looking forward to seeing them. At about mile 12 I heard someone say my name. I didn’t think anything of it (with a crowd that big, I figured it was another Jenni since I wasn’t expecting to see anyone at that spot), but then I heard it again, so I turned around. Much to my surprise, I saw my friend Hyalker, who I met when I lived in Spain. He knew I was going to be there, but I haven’t seen him in 5 years, and I can’t BELIEVE he was able to pick me out of that crowd!!! I rode that high until I saw my parents about a half mile later, on one of the bridges over the Chicago River. They almost didn’t see me, so I had to wave my arms to get their attention. I think I actually lost more energy at that point than I gained, but it was good to see them! I hit the half at 1:48 and change, and I was feeling really good about it.

Somewhere in the next three miles we started running in the sun off and on. We ran through some really cute neighborhoods with tree-lined streets, which I enjoyed, but the sun started to get to me almost immediately. I was on at 25km and I hung on until mile 16, when I decided to walk through a water station. Fortunately, I made up for it, so I was still on pace until mile 18 or 19. We hit the Pilsen neighborhood (formerly the Czech neighborhood, not the Hispanic neighborhood), and I truly fell apart. I stopped to stretch at the water station because my hamstrings were starting to cramp a little bit despite having had Gatorade at every aid station along the way. I almost called it quits and bought Aguas Frescas and tamales from one of the stands along the street, but I decided that would be pretty lame, so I kept running. Somewhere between 19 and 20 the 3:40 group passed me, and I lost it mentally. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t really have the energy. Then I got to mile 20 and I didn’t see my parents. I was hoping that seeing them would give me the boost I needed, but they didn’t make it there. I was sure that they had seen the 3:40 group and left, figuring that I had passed them and that they had missed me. As I convinced myself that this was what happened, I fell deeper and deeper into my head, and just wanted to be done.

I’m not really sure when it happened, but something made me come around. Maybe it was the nice African-American lady that handed me a bottle of water, or the girl that shared her water with me, or maybe it was “I Wanna Sex You Up” blaring at one of the aid stations (Really? Who picked that one??? It was good for a laugh!). All I know is that I was feeling halfway decent when I saw Hyalker again, around mile 22. Same as last time, he called my name twice before I found him, and I couldn’t believe that he’d picked me out of the crowd! Craziness!

Shortly after I saw Hyalker, I saw a girl collapse. The guy she was running with carried her off the course, and we all just kind of looked, not really knowing what to do. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to help, so I ran ahead to the aid station that was about a tenth of a mile down the street, and I told them to go check on her. It was then that I really started thinking that I should be careful. I’m used to cool, foggy San Francisco weather, and this was definitely NOT San Francisco weather!

I ran into Christine around mile 23, and we ran together for about a mile. We were both feeling pretty out of it. She decided to stop and walk at around mile 24, and I offered to stick with her, already knowing that this wasn’t going to be a PR. She insisted I go ahead, and I did so reluctantly. After about a half mile I wasn’t feeling any better than she was, so I stopped to walk. My head was tingly and so were my fingers, and I honestly felt like I might pass out. There were people collapsing along the course, and I stopped to ask one guy if he was okay – turns out he had decided to sit down and stretch, and he was fine, but I couldn’t let myself go by without at least checking! After a little bit, I decided that I was okay to try running again, and I realized that I might make it in under 3:50, so I tried to pick it up.

I made sure to keep drinking water and to pour it on my head whenever I had a chance, and soon I saw the “1 mile to go” mark, so I picked it up the best I could. I could see Lesley’s apartment building, and I knew it was the point where we turned to go over the bridge to the finish line. I focused on that, and willed myself to keep up the speed and not pass out! When I got to the turn at the bottom of the “big hill,” I tried to take the tangent around the median, and I almost collided with an idiot spectator who was in the road. I yelled at her, but then decided it wasn’t worth the energy, and I focused on getting up the hill. People had collapsed right there, almost within sight of the finish line, and I knew that I really needed to stay within myself if I wanted to stay on my feet. Apparently my mom and dad were there, on top of the bridge, but I didn’t even notice. I flew down the hill and around the corner into the finish chute. It seemed SO far to the finish line, but I picked it up best I could. The only thing I noticed was a runner whose boyfriend proposed to her – totally cute! She was crying, and I started to well up, but I gathered myself and made a beeline for the finish.

I made it just under 3:50, in 3:49:49. It wasn’t a Boston qualifier, but I couldn’t have been happier. Or more out of it. As I walked through the finish area, my breath got really shallow, and I did my best not to panic, taking deep breaths so I wouldn’t pass out. I walked like a zombie through the finish area, picking up bagels and water and the usual. The best thing they had was a bag of ice, which I promptly rested on my neck. Unfortunately, I missed the beer! I headed over to the bag check area to get my phone, and I sat down on the grass and made some calls. I left a message on Oron’s phone, and halfway through burst into tears. I was a total wreck, though I’m not sure what exactly triggered it! After that, I called my parents and figured out where to meet them, and then pulled myself together enough to get there. I still felt a little fuzzy, but my legs were working just fine, so I made my way over to the meeting area, where I found my mom, my dad, Sam, Christine, Lesley, and Steven. We took some pictures, and debriefed. We all pretty much had the same issue – the sun just kicked our asses. We all started to fall apart at the same spot, which was when we hit the sun. And after talking with other friends who were there, they all said they felt great until about mile 18 or 19, just like me.

Me, Sam, Christine, Lesley, and Steve after the race

Lesley and Steven headed home, and Sam, Christine, my parents and I started heading toward the hotel, but on the way we stopped for a post-race beer in the Bank of America tent. We got to the front of the line, and they promptly asked us for our IDs. Um, yeah, I don’t carry my driver’s license during a marathon!!! We managed to finagle a couple of drink coupons thanks to my mom and dad (what is this, high school?), so Sam and I got our beers and we were happy.

Me, Sam, and Christine with our beers!

Sam and Christine caught a cab back to the hotel, and my parents and I walked down Michigan Avenue toward Niketown. It was a nice walk because I got to stretch my legs a bit, and we also got to see more of the city.

Me, mom, and dad in front of the bean

We checked out the “bean” sculpture, saw the Wrigley Building and the new Trump Tower, and grabbed lunch before we got to Niketown, where I found the Nike shorts that Jenny, Denise, and I were planning to wear for the Nike Women’s Marathon the following week). Everyone in the city was super cool, asking all the marathoners how the race had gone, and congratulating all of us. I was very impressed!

After that, it was time to make our way to the airport, so we went back to the hotel, I showered in Sam and Christine’s room (we had to check out, but fortunately they were staying another night), and we checked other runners’ splits. We caught a cab and went to a Czech restaurant to get some kolacky (yummy Czech baked goods), and then went straight to the airport. I said goodbye to my parents in Denver, and made it back to SF late that night and began my week-long recovery before my back to back marathons!