Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities (actually, just One Windy One)

It was the best of times (who doesn't love eating as much as they want without gaining weight?), it was the worst of times (this article explains that part: (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/08/us/08chicago.html). On Sunday, October 7th 2007 I set out to conquer 26.2 miles of Chicago's downtown with 45,000 other people. Out of 45,000 registered runners, only 35,000 started the race and a little over 24,000 actually finished. This is my story (and yes, I am now officially a marathon finisher).

The Wonder Years

As someone who spent the majority of her youth soccer career avoiding the act of running unless chasing a ball or being chased while in possession of the ball, it seemed rather unlikely that I would develop into an adult runner. Fast forward 10 years after high school and here I am writing in my blog about running, go figure?

Live, from Chicago- it's Saturday night (and afternoon)

At an ungodly early hour on Saturday morning, well before the sun had risen on the west coast, Chad and I left the comfort of our cozy townhome and stuffed ourselves and our carry-on luggage into his little GTI and headed south to the San Diego airport. About 5 hours later, we were in O'Hare playing a clever game called "Spot the other Marathon Runners".

After a long trek on the "L" surrounded by hopeful Cubbies fans (hope crushed later that night by the D-Backs extending "The Curse of the Billy Goat" to another season), we checked into our room at the Hotel Indigo (highly recommend staying there, btw). We then embarked on a brief tour of Chi-Town with our official tour guide, Evan, at the helm of a very broken in "city car" Civic.
Our destination was the official La Salle Bank Chicago Marathon 2008 expo. On the check-in table I noticed a foreboding stack of flyers issuing a "Heat Warning" for the race. I later learned that 10,000 of the 45,000 registered runners heeded the warning and didn't bother to show up Sunday morning for the start.

Saturday night Evan parted ways to hang with his fellow Northwestern alumni while Chad and I chowed on Italian Carbs with my friend from my UMass Lowell days, Nic (a Texas to Boston to Chicago transplant) and her devoted Cubs fan boyfriend, Scott (thankfully we weren't around when his team's season wrapped to a less than flattering finish later that night). Apparently they had slipped sleeping pills in my chicken parm since that night I slept like the only thing I had to do the next day was sit on white sand with a Strawberry Daiquiri in hand (think The Beach without the weird island cult). Unfortunately, the cooks left them out of Chad's spaghetti as he spent the night tossing and turning like he was floating in a dingy on the Baring Sea in prime crabbing season (think Deadliest Catch without a bunch of shipmates around to fish you out if you fall overboard).

October 7th

Another ungodly early morning started off with Evan, Chad and me hailing a cab not too far from the hotel. As soon as we stepped outside I noticed that I was uncomfortably warm, despite wearing thin nylon shorts, a tank top and a lightweight long-sleeved t-shirt. Oh yeah, and it was still dark out. Sweet.

We had the cabbie drop us off just a few blocks away from the start area at Grant Park. As we walked over, I realized we were surrounded by a bunch of bleary-eyed athletes that were stumbling towards assorted starting tents and an army of bright blue "Johnny-on-the-spots". I caught myself thinking, why are these nuts up right now!? I quickly remembered I had joined the ranks of "nuts" the moment I set foot off the plane at O'Hare.

The hour and a half of waiting before the start was filled with eating more Powerbars (I am officially on strike from food in bar form for the next month, in case anyone was wondering), photo opps, meeting up with other friends (Lila and Rory) and a few trips back to those bright blue armies. I was getting pretty comfortable with milling around the gear-check tents when a voice boomed over the loudspeaker and put an abrupt end to my little delusion that maybe I wasn't really supposed to run 26.2 miles today. Wait- that's right, I knew I was there for something important! Oh crap.

The Lineup

The only time during the whole race that I felt like I was going to puke was in those 15 minutes sandwiched in the pack waiting for the start gun. The reality of running a marathon finished settling in while I listened to Country Music Star Jo Dee Messina belt out our National Anthem (she ran as well and I think it is important to note that yes, I beat her time. I'm really not competitive, really.). Eight minutes and twelve seconds after the starting gun sounded, Chad, Evan and I crossed the first Champion Timing Mat. I wished them luck and waved goodbye as they drifted further in front of me, then bowed my head down (music-less mind you, my beloved iPod Nano had died the Friday before) and hunkered down for a very LONG day.

Characters Welcome (Miles 1 - 8)

I was about 5 minutes into the marathon when I realized that the air outside was already hotter than a showgirl in Vegas and it was only 8:17am, Central Standard Time. Not a great sign. Lucky for me, I had quite a few distractions. A few strips of medical tape across the top of my tank top read "Go Michele". Thankfully Chicago residents like to yell names of people they don't know so I spent those first 8 miles forgetting my nerves and counting the "Go Michele"s. Around the 3rd mile I noticed an intriguing costume ahead of me that resembled a certain, er, "body part". As I got closer, I read the sign pinned to the back of the massive foam suit that encased one very sweaty runner and received confirmation that the costume was of the only logical mascot for someone advocating testicular cancer awareness- I think you know where I am going with this. Five miles later I found myself in Boys Town enjoying a performance from Chicago's favorite gay color guard and receiving cheers from a large crowd of drag queens donning very sparkly dresses. My last "Go Michele" cheer before the tape fell off my shirt (I had been dumping enough water on myself to fill Lake Michigan) came from a very enthusiastic spectator holding a "Run Bitches, Run" sign. Thanks for the support, Boys Town.

It's Getting Hot in Here (Miles 9 - 20)

The miles between nine and twenty are mostly a blurr as I spent most of my time chugging water and Gatorade, dumping water over my head or looking for the next resident with their garden hose turned on full blast and pointed at the street. I'd like to point out that I absolutely hate Gatorade and refused to drink it even during training regularly in 80 degree plus weather. But that day it was chug or wind up like the people I saw lined up alongside the medical tent when I made my one pit-stop at mile 12. The dehydration and heat exhaustion that hit those people was quick and nasty and quite frankly, I hate puking even more than I hate Gatorade, so Lemon Lime became my new best friend.

Are you talkin' to me? (Miles 20.5 - 26)

After the 20 mile mark I did a silent body and mind check to make sure that all my limbs and brain cells were still attached and functioning. Having only reached 18 miles in my long runs during training, I was secretly convinced that crossing the 20 mile mark would make my body spontaneously combust. Nope- all parts were in tact and I actually felt strangely strong and happy and excited to tackle the final 6.2. That happiness and excitement came to an abrupt halt somewhere in between Mile 20 and Mile 21 where a uniformed woman walked down the center of the course yelling, "Stop running! The race is canceled. Stop running!" Canceled!? What the heck was this lady talking about? I had just run over 20 miles and was near the 4 hour mark and not about to "stop running" as this horrid woman suggested. She might as well have been spewing a string of profanities in the middle of Sunday mass with the repulsed looks of disbelief and anger she immediately received from the pack of marathoners surrounding me. I thought to myself, "They are going to have to pry my stubborn a** off of this road in handcuffs if they think I am not going to finish this race today." I ignored her instructions and pressed on. At the 35K marker the race officials had turned off the time clock and seemingly deactivated the Champion Chip pad since it was no longer making the comforting "BEEP!" sound that the pad normally yelps out when your "chipped" shoe crosses over. Then police officers started flooding the course asking us to stop running. Finally, I had to succumb to their orders or face being removed from the course and not allowed to even walk the final miles to complete the marathon distance. I made friends with a fellow marathoner who had been pacing his sister earlier in the race. It was his sister's first marathon and she had been forced to drop out at Mile 7 when she began feeling the effects of the excessive heat and humidity. At Mile 23 we met up with his friends that were spectators and had a nice chat about the situation of the day. One of his friends had also been running and forced to stop. We all decided that we were only 3.2 miles away so the only logical thing to do at that point was to walk to the finish to get our medals. Since we weren't allowed to run we each brought a cup of the Mandarin and Vodka drink that had been made by one of the girl spectators and downed it during the walk to the next mile markers. At that point I was frustrated that I had been robbed of the marathon time that I knew I was capable of so I figured, might as well enjoy my stroll through downtown Chicago!

The end is near (Mile 26 - 26.2)

As I neared the finish, it became apparent that the police were loosening up the "No Running" restriction. During the past few miles, Chicago police cars had actually driven down the center of the course to slow people down and force them to walk. Hearing the finishing announcer and seeing the explosion in the size of the crowd lining the path to the finish, I lost control of my feet and they took off running for the finish. I ran up the infamous final hill towards the turn that led down to the finish-line arch. After I rounded the bend, the crowd grew even louder. I cheered as the announcer read off top 5 states with the largest number of participants (#3- California, Yay! That's me!) and locked eyes on the finish. I crossed the line about 35minutes after my original goal time but I was ecstatic for completing my first marathon and thankful that I was healthy and uninjured. I scoffed at the people holding the shiny, silver space blankets, stretched my neck out to receive my finisher's medal then stuck my foot out to have the chip cut off my shoe. I had just completed my first marathon and all I could think was, "Did that just really happen!?"


jessy said...

Great Job Michele, we're proud of you! Glad you survived in that horrid heat.

Jenny said...

Dude, how incredibly lame that they wouldn't let you run. Pshaw, heatstroke, whatever.

Also sucks about the nano. Time for a new one!

Manuel said...

I am very happy for you Michele. I would have never survived that kind of heat. Congrats on finishing!

lila said...

Woo hoo!! You did it Michele! Congrats on a job well done! The Long Beach marathon is this weekend. Interested??

Hyo said...

Michele- you rock girl!! Congrats and I LOVED your very descriptive and entertaining experience. Your awesome!! p.s. Miss ya girl.

Jody said...

Congratulations Nadine! You are the bomb! Don't let this make you a stranger of the windy city... PLEASE!!!

Anonymous said...

Gooooooo Michele. You did it! I'm sorry that your first marathon experience had to be like this, but then HEY, you have better stories than most first timers will EVER have. Survival of the Fittest! Congratulations! coach dan

CRS said...

Hey Michele, that's so awesome and how "very unlike you" to be stubborn and finish the marathon.