Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Chicago Marathon 2019

Before we get into details, let me start by saying... I couldn't be happier with the way the 2019 season ended. Yea, sure a BQ at the end of the year woulda been nice. But hey, the race went about how I expected it to and I had the time of my life in the process. 

Let's also go over a few things...

...The last time I ran the Chicago Marathon, there was no lottery system to enter. You simply went to the website and signed up and knew instantly what you were going to be doing the 2nd weekend of October. 

...The last time I ran the Chicago Marathon, I wasn't searched at the entrance of the expo. Yea, for real. You could just walk in. Imagine my surprise this year when I walked up to the entrance and had to hand over my bag and let them pat me down.

...The last time I ran the Chicago Marathon, Grant Park wasn't completely closed off to spectators before the start of the race. This year? If you weren't a runner, you couldn't even enter the park (which wasn't even close to the start line/corals). Along with any opened liquids, all liquids that weren't sealed had to be left outside the park entrance.

...The last time I ran the Chicago Marathon, I found Rob and family and friends almost instantly after finishing the race. Spectators were literally allowed... almost anywhere. This year? All spectators that entered the park/finish line area had to go through security and were only allowed at the "Athlete Reunite" section of the park. I walked a casual half mile after finishing the race before I found a familiar face. 

...The last time I ran the Chicago Marathon, The Boston Marathon bombings hadn't happened yet. 

Yea, that last one kinda hits home, doesn't it?

That just meant this smile was that much larger all day long

I signed up for this race a year ago with truly 1 hope: enjoy the day & the city of Chicago and to close out the wedding year as a Sloan racing in the best city of the world. Race week approached, and I knew in the back of my mind that I had higher hopes, but at the end of the day, LIFE challenged me this summer. And I knew when I walked into McCormick Place with my father on Friday afternoon that I was in this race for the basics, FUN.

I tried to tease and tell him that bib was linked to HIS name, not mine 😉

I slept in Saturday morning, set no alarm. If there was any chance of speedy legs, R E S T is what the doctor ordered going into Sunday morning. I packed my bags and headed downtown to meet my brother and our crazy friends, The Green Guys. They were back in action, painted Green head to toe to help promote the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle. I promised to be their security at the expo for a few hours on Saturday, but that was about it. I found them in the Hyatt McCormick Place 99% green and ready to mingle with all the Chicago Marathon participants. And as soon as we entered the lobby leading into McCormick Place, the mayhem started and I turned into "the picture girl." 

At this point, it doesn't even phase me

I originally planned on sitting the expo out on Saturday, putting the feet up and kicking back. But looking back, I'm so glad I decided to hang with the guys. It kept my mind at ease, didn't allow me to overthink race day which could have potentially lead to a harder pill to swallow on Sunday afternoon. I watched these guys pose with police dogs, kids, international runners that had NO CLUE why 3 American men would paint themselves green, and even a mannequin or 2 at the Nike store. I watched people point, laugh, stare, and simply question their sanity. And it still never gets old and makes me laugh every single time. 

DJ Booth at the Nike Store

Ain't no Laws when you're drinkin' Claws


Because this expo offers SO many photo opportunities

Alas, it was time to hunker down for the night after a hearty burger, brussel sprouts, and Chicago's finest 312 with Rob's sister Kim and her husband Jim. They were kind enough to let me crash with them the night before so I could be as close to the starting line as possible on race morning. And when I mean close, I mean... I walked 10 minutes from their front door to the start line. Yes, I ran one of the Major Marathons and literally walked to the start line, I was that close. As long as is I live, that will never happen at any other Major Marathon that I have the privilege to run. 

Race morning arrived and I actually felt like I slept a full night's sleep. It was a great feeling, I felt like it was another day and I was headed out for a workout! I made my way to my gate and was pleasantly surprised when I was searched at the entry of Grant Park. My half drank bottle of water was also confiscated from me. Well, this shit just got real. I had plenty of time before I NEEDED to enter my coral, but there was such a hype about "crowds" and "security" and now I was seeing why. There were multiple levels of security to walk through before you were even close to the bag check/coral area. 

Buckingham Fountain at sunrise

This site, this was also something new to me. Maybe it's because I've been stuck in the triathlon world for so long? But... can't someone just change in a porta potty? You know how many porta potties I've changed in in my life? Or trees I've hid behind? Buildings? Alleys? 

I opened the door on one of them, no toilet.
Literally just 4 porta potty walls.
I made my way to my coral after checking my bag and sending out my farewell text to the family. I sported a very fancy pair of WalMart sweats that cost me all of $10 that I planned on stripping as soon as the race started. It was a balmy 40 degrees at the start and I wasn't about to be cold for 45+ minutes before the gun went off.

I made my way to the 3:25 pace group and introduced myself to the pacers. 2 women and 1 man. All of them strangers to each other, all seasoned, decorated runners themselves. One of which had just run Milwaukee LakeFront Marathon only 7 days prior and PR'ed herself with a casual 3:01. I actually asked her (without any filter) "Wait, you're sure your legs can handle 26.2 back to back weekends, especially after throwing down a PR?" She laughed and promised me she'd be ok. 

The gun went off and it was 8 minutes before I crossed the start line, even though I was in the first wave. I told the pacer my BQ story before the start and wanted her to know I was going to hang with her as long as I could and that I was putting 100% trust and faith in her because at this point, I had nothing to lose. The first mile was as crowded as expected, but the energy was simply A M A Z I N G. Bridges covered in spectators. Running on Lower Wacker gives me a rush like I can't describe. (It's similar to the same rush I feel while driving on it, fearing for my life). Not a car in sight, just me and 45,000 of my closest friends sharing the streets of Chicago. 

The first mile ticked by and it was a tad slow, but I expected it to be. We started at the front of Coral D so we were running into the back end of Coral C. And, GPS can't be trusted for the first few miles of Chicago because of all the buildings. So, it could have been faster than we thought. And.. it could have been slower than we thought. We closed in on mile 2 and I hung tight to the pacer and didn't let her out of my reach. We crossed the river for the 2nd time and I took a second to glance around and take in the moment. And wouldn't you believe, my eyes scanned over the median of the bridge and there stood this 6' tall skinny white man with his arms shot out wide with a confused look on his face. Any guesses? 


Somehow, he skated his way out onto the MIDDLE OF A BRIDGE over the Chicago River, climbed the median and scaled the tallest pole he could find. Totally solo in the middle of 3 million people. My guy, expert spectator. He knew what he was doing. He had spotted the 3:25 pace group and was trying to make himself as large as possible in case I'd spot him, and sure as shit, I did. 

HONEY! I yelled.
HODE! He yelled back!
My heart burst with joy in that moment. I had spotted my husband in the middle of 3 million people. Out of pure chance. It's not everyday you can literally own the streets of Chicago on foot and spot your #1 in a sea of people.  Shortly after that moment, my watch beeped mile 2 and it was much slower than mile 1. I still didn't worry to much, the pacers elicited such confidence at the start, I was sure they had a plan.

And it was a last minute plan. I turned my head and could tell the 3 of them were chatting and seemed a bit nervous. I heard things like "1 minute back" "no no, GPS is off." "no, it's not that off, I have splits written on my arm." And just like that, I could feel the pace drop. And quickly. Mile 3 and 4 dropped down to 7 minute miles. Way to rich for my blood. But I did my best to hang with them. I spotted Rob one more time before we started to head North, somewhere in the middle of our quick "speed session." I could tell, slowly but surely, I was fading from the front of the pack. I told myself to lay low for a mile, regroup, and make your way back up to the front of the pack. Because if I'm being honest, this pace group was rollin' DEEP and being at the back of the pack could easily put you 30 seconds behind pace.

At the 8K mark, I knew Mark would be with The Green Guys (The Shamrock Shuffle is 8K so that's where they would be hanging out and cheering.) I passed through 8K and high fived The Green Guys. I never saw Mark, but it's very possible he was mere feet away but I missed him in the crowds.

We reached the turn around point at about mile 8 and I was still hanging towards the back of the pace group, but I could tell that I was working way to hard to run an 8:00 mile. This is how I should feel at mile 18, not mile 8. It was in that moment I decided, somewhere between Wrigleyville and Boystown, today was going to be FUN. I was going to run just to run. I was going to laugh at the drag queens in Boystown. I was going to high five little kids on the side of the road. I was going to do what I set out to do a year ago, I was going to enjoy this city.

I wasn't about to "walk" this marathon, but it wasn't going to be a record setting day. Boystown offered quite a party, Drag Queens galore. There was a stage where many of them stood and performed. One of them even called me out as I ran by. The smile on my face grew by the mile. I was about to enter the loop again and the crowds were starting to grow THICK again. I let the energy carry me for a few miles. My pace dropped slightly, but not enough to give me hopes of a fast day. Just about mile 12, I  saw a women on the side of the road, frantic and cheering. Hell, most people were. But this one.. she was different. Something possessed me to turn my head and see what was bothering her. And wouldn't you believe, one of my college friends (who was also at my first Chicago Marathon in 2011) was screaming her lungs off at me, "HODE! HODE! HODE!" I couldn't believe my eyes and backtracked a half step and swung my arms around her neck and squeezed tight for a split second. This running world, this city, it's damn powerful and amazing. 

Mile ???

It was less than 2 blocks later I decided to scan the opposite side of the street and once again, Rob and I locked eyes. I darted diagonally across the runners (not easy, at all) and ran up to him. He ran with me for a block or 2 while I filled him in on how my goals had changed for the day. He sent me on my way with a running kiss and promised he'd see me sometime soon. I didn't doubt him at all.

I made my way West and that was when the wind REALLY made itself known. It was quite present all day, coming at you from every angle. But West was where the headwinds came from. By mile 14 I had to pee like I hadn't peed all night long and then just decided to go for a run. Mile 15's aid station offered no available porta potties so I waited until mile 16. FINALLY. I pealed off course and time myself to see how long it took. I kid you not, this was a solid 30 second pee. Good thing I suppose, I was hydrated. And when I took off again into the land of Pilsen, I felt like a new woman that had a little hop in her step again.

Side Note: Out of all the parties going on in the city that day, Pilsen EASILY offered the best party. Completely with Mexican music and little Grandma's wearing warm poncho's trying to hand out taquitos to runners and Day of the Dead costumes ALL OVER. It was amazing. It was also hard to tell when Pilsen ended and Little Italy began. The party continued and flowed from one ethnicity to the next. Next thing you know, I was about to enter the ever popular China Town, but not without a Rob (AND MARK!) sighting! This time, they were DEEP in the back of crowd, jumping and yelling obnoxiously. I flashed a wave and thought to myself, "how in the hell did they get here? Surely they know, if you show up in China Town, you don't make it to the finish line?" The course is hard to navigate from China Town to the finish if you're a spectator. I assumed the next I'd see them would be at the Athlete Reunite Area.

The next couple of miles kind of blur together until I made my way to Michigan Avenue. Fatigue had set in miles before and I was feeling it. I prayed for the turn on Roosevelt, signifying one more turn on Columbus before the finish line. I looked for a few others I anticipated seeing on course. I put one foot in front of the other and just before mile 26, Mark and Rob made their final presence of the day. Front and center on the fence line. They had to have broken ever traffic law known to man and demolished a few people to get that spot on the fence. I took that turn on Roosevelt and muscled up the small hill as I approached Columbus and I knew I was going to have break away if I wanted to break 4 hours. I dug deep, found a gear that involved playing with fire because at any moment a calf cramp could take me down, and crossed the line with 8 seconds to spare.

Still no idea where this was but I'm almost convinced it was near the very end

I never stopped moving and kept going all the way until I found Rob, and then Mark. I melted in both their arms and couldn't be happier with my day. I gave it what I had. I had fun. I saw the city the best way I know how.

My Favorite Men

They comforted me, hugged me, and made sure I was mobile. Once they realized I was good to go, it was a mad dash to back to the car to get Mark to work on time (In Fulton Market. On race day.) Let's just say, I know for a FACT these 2 broke traffic laws all day long. "Honey, the police are ALL busy right now. Don't worry." - Rob.

I get emotional when I think back on this day. I don't have many pictures to offer but I kind of prefer it that way. I have everything stored away in my mind. Every drag queen, every aid station volunteer soaked in water, every incredible view. It's all tucked away for a rainy day. When I'm wondering why on Earth I put myself through this, day after day? When I need just a little more out of my legs before the workout is over. This, this is what race day is all about.

And with that, I give you 2019.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Throwing Caution to the Wind

I wish I could go back and recap the last 4 months of life. 'Whirlwind' doesn't even start to describe what my world has been since Rob and I said "I do." Weddings and birthday parties and more weddings and more birthday parties and bachelorette parties galore! The summer of celebrations, I like to call it.

I knew this summer would be hard for Running/Triathlon Megan. I snuck in a few races here and there. I never stopped running. I swam and biked as time allowed. After my failed attempt at a BQ in April, I had hopes of going back to Duluth, MN in June to race Grandma's Marathon. {Or as I call it, Christmas Day for runners in June.} But life got hectic between April and June. I officially tied the knot and I attended 2 other weddings, consecutively after my very own (1 of them happened to be one of our groomsmen, whom Rob also stood up for). None of these events came with early bedtimes or hydrating beverages such as water or a variety of sports beverages. I truly C E L E B R A T E D everything and that will always come with a price. A headache in the morning? Maybe. A little less sleep? Always. A diet you aren't used to? 100%. I always put on my shoes on the next morning. But the quality of my running I was hoping for wasn't always there. So at the end of the day, I decided to forego Grandma's Marathon and put all my eggs into one basket. The Chicago Marathon.

The last time I ran The Chicago Marathon, circa 2011
You can spot me in the pink tank, running with Brian

Which leaves us here.

I got my butt back into gear. I've put the work in. But I continued to "celebrate" my way through the summer. I didn't nail every workout. I didn't have time sit in my boots every time I needed to. I slacked on my stretches when I needed it most. But, as of today, I'm actually feeling pretty good about this whole thing. I'm a firm believer in "You get out of something what you put in." And I know for a fact that my lead in into The Chicago Marathon hasn't been perfect 100% of the time. {Truth bomb, it never will be either.} But I can say with certainty that I didn't have the focus, energy, or time to commit to training that BQ needs this time around.

But here we are.

By no means do I think this will be an awful day. I'll run this marathon in the greatest city in the world and I'll have a smile on my face regardless of how fast or slow I finish. But, the last time I qualified for Boston, I had 19 seconds separate me from a qualification and the starting line in Hopkinton. And that was after laser precision focus all winter long. I was probably the strongest runner I've ever been at that point.

And since that race, the BQ standard has dropped by 5 minutes. {Currently 3:30 to qualify, approximately 3:27-3:25 to RUN Boston} Which means I need to shave off roughly 3-5 minutes if I actually want to RUN Boston 2021. And I have to be honest and real with myself. I'm not an athlete that has plenty of time to spare. I'm playing with seconds here. But stranger things have happened.

8 years ago. All of us still friends.
Every single one of these people attended our wedding (or stood IN it)

The weather is looking pretty damn good. It has me "giddy" if you will. Last week I ran after work and it was hotter and more humid than most of my workouts all summer long. So, I'm hoping I have some hidden fitness that will come show up on race day now that the weather is cooperating. My legs have done this distance 13 times before, so I'm hoping some muscle memory kicks in at some point. I've also been much better and proactive about taking care of myself. I've had 2 massage in the past 3 weeks and I'm currently sitting in my Normatec boots and I have a date with my STIM unit tomorrow night.

Chicago Marathon 2011: Boyfriend
Chicago Marathon 2019: Husband

So, if you find yourself interested in my racing endeavours, you can track me on the Chicago Marathon app on Sunday morning. I'll be in the first wave, coral D, meaning I should take off pretty close to 7:30am. Bib 14721. If you'll be on course, I'm planning on gluing myself to the 3:25 pace group towards the front of the group (because claustrophobia is a REAL THING in this race in tight packs). I'll need every ounce of positive energy, good vibes, extra prayers, and anything else you can send my way. But in all honesty, sometimes life is about throwing all caution to the wind and seeing where it takes you. And this kinda feels just like that.

I'll see ya on the other side. And not in 4 months, sometime next week. I promise.