I have had some disappointments at races over the past year, which considering the losses I had in my life, it could have filtered over into that. I'm not sure what it was or even if it's over, but this is quite the journey of life I'm on, and I take each race as a process along the journey, with lessons to be learned from each.
I was asked to pace at 5:45 for this Marathon. I was quite honored to be asked, and was a bit nervous as I've been dropping out of races lately, so I really didn't know if my drive was strong enough to get me, never mind others counting on me, to the Finish. But I decided this just may be what will shake me out of my funk. And it certainly turned out to be!
First, I got my pacing outfit mailed to me a couple of weeks ago: sleeveless technical top, long-sleeve technical top, shorts, awesome jacket and a very cool watch. All from Nike. I practiced in the clothing and had no chafing issues, so I was off to a good start.
Paul Miller, our wonderful leader, gave us all times to volunteer at the Expo and I was expected to be there on Saturday morning from 9-12, fully outfitted. There were lines at the entrance before 9!! I was shocked to see that. I made my way over to the Nike Pace Team booth (quite the big booth!), and was given instructions from Paul's sweet wife, Lindsey. I set myself on a chair, got water to keep hydrated and waited for the runners. In no time there was a line waiting to sign up with us! Lots of questions from the runners, which I had plenty probably due to my pace being a real beginner time. So many excited runners, of course, and it was a fun morning. I had a good time with the other pacers that were there, about 15 of us in all that morning. Each pace had between 3-7 pacers, with 3:50 thru 4:30 looking like the busiest of all. A bunch of them were going to the pace leader dinner that night, which I was signed up for also.
The dinner was a fun time and I brought along my friend, Anu, who had been in my Half-Marathon training program I led last year and was now signed up for her first marathon. She was so excited, but very hesitant that she'd finish the race (which was absurd...her training went perfect!) and I knew this would be an inspiring night for her, so I had to share. We listened to many stories from these experienced pacers, had lots of laughs and enjoyed a good pasta meal. I was certainly emotionally ready for my race now, finally believing I could do it.
Had a rough night sleeping, which is normal for me, and finally gave up by 3 am. Putzed around on the internet for a bit, then started getting ready. I left my condo by 5:30 am, picked up Anu, and headed down to the race. I love Chicago in the wee hours of the morning, especially on Marathon day. This was to be my 4th Chicago Marathon, and my 6th Marathon total. The air was fresh and I knew there was lots of activity going on out there, with 45,000 runners getting ready for their big day. My adrenaline was flowing!
I parted from Anu by the Chicago Hilton, which is pumping with Marathon fever--many runners meeting up in the lobby. I headed over to the pacer tent and met the two other ladies at my pace. It was great to have a chair to sit on, tables to place my bag and time to get ready and relax. Paul ordered water and food, but it hadn't arrived just yet, which got me a bit nervous as the bottle I carried had my drink powder in it, but was in need of that water!! I had a banana with me, had a scoop of peanut butter before I left my condo, so that was good.
I knew four of the pacers from my running group, clocktowerrunners.org, to it was great to get hugs and encouragement from them. One of the guys, Willie, is planning on doing Rocky Raccoon with me, and he was a great support (and I suspect the one responsible for me getting this pacer job).
Our tent had a wire fence around it with an open area to the street so we were able to see the beautiful sunrise over Lake Michigan, always inspiring. It also allowed the runners on the street a bit of access to us, and some were coming over and asking last minute questions. It was great to feel like a bit of a help to ease their last-minute jitters.
Paul made an inspiring speech, thanking all of us for helping out, with some last minute tips on what the weather may bring. As most of you know, last year's Marathon was cancelled during the run and the weather report for this day was looking like it was going to hit 80 (I believe the high last year was 87). The course was more prepared--more water stops, sprinklers, misters and ice was expected out on the course. I still worried a bit, since back-of-the-packers are at the mercy of the upfront runners not using up all the supplies. I have often seen banana peels, licorice and ice on streets of a course that ran out when I got there. One of our pacers was a Preacher, so we were treated to a blessing before we started, and I noticed some of the runners on the street clinging close to the fence to get a bit of that blessing. As a Jew, I never have a problem with being blessed from other religious leaders, I've always respected their positions and enjoy the good feelings they pass on to me.
We headed out of the tent for a few pictures and then headed out to the course. As the "sweeper" pacer, we were the last on the line-up, up against the entrance to the back of the course. The course closed in 6 1/2 hours, very generous for a Marathon, so I knew we would have people behind us struggling to complete the race. The three of us pacers were bombarded with lots of questions, everyone very excited for this race. The main question was how were we going to run the race. Each of us pacers had a different tactic--Amy was running straight through, though walking through the water stops, Betty was doing a 2:1 run:walk pace and I planned on a 4:1 pace. Though, of course, we would mostly be close to each other, the running parts would separate us a bit. I was wearing two watches, my Garmin with the GPS feature and the Nike watch we were given out which was ready with the timing feature just in case the Garmin died on me. I trained with a 12:45 pace and a quick walk which gave me the overall 13:10 pace, though the walks through the very long water stops were going to mess that up, so I had to be very alert and be able to do catch-ups.
I had about 20-25 people around me that wanted to stick close by. Two of these runners ran right next to me and loved calling out "run" and "walk" during the first part of the race. A few of the runners wanted to carry the pace stick, which I was happy to share, though nobody wanted it after we hit the half marathon point.
We had a good solid run the first half. The heat was starting to hit us, so I yelled out to everyone to throw water on their heads at every water stop. So far so good, most of the runners seemed to be listening to me and we were a fun, chatty group. One of the guys running with us showed us an engagement ring--he was planning to propose to his girlfriend at the finish line!! I lost him along the way, so I don't know what happened, but it was very cool to know that was going on.
At the Half point, there was a loud-speaker announcer stating that the warning level for the race had changed to RED and we were advised to take it easier and to stop if we experienced dizziness or nausea. I had about 15 runners close by me and reiterated what the announcer said, adding that we were going to find every bit of water available to throw on our heads or soak us down and that I'd get them to the finish if they listened to me, as long as they didn't have any of those symptoms. Now I felt a huge drive of commitment. One of the ladies next to me said she was not going to be gypped out of a finish, like she was last year and I promised her I'd get her through. Unfortunately, at around mile 22 a blister got to her and I lost her.
I told the runners that now was the time to ignore the crowds, as wonderful as they were, and to focus on their forms. At every walk I had them roll their shoulders and deep breathe. Whenever I saw a sprinkler (many Chicagoans open up their hoses to spray us down--what a great town this is!!), I yelled out "sprinkler on the right", and we all headed over to it for a good soaking. Ice started to appear around mile 16, and I learned later from my faster friends that they never saw Ice. I was impressed to think the race director held out handing ice out just for the back-of-the-packers, a great strategy, as were we in great need of that to keep us out there for so long. I forgive him now for last year's let down. I yelled for the ladies to put the ice down their bras and, at first, they didnt believe me, but then they yelled out, "My "ladies" are happy!" so I knew they were listening.
My wonderful girlfriend, Hannah, met me around mile 18 and carried my sign and brought SNICKERS!! YAY! I had a couple (Halloween size) and she shared with the runners near us. I noticed now that the course was changed from the previous years, which had me a bit disillusioned as to where I was, but the scenery was SO much better that I wasn't disappointed. I got my runners to get excited about the dragon in Chinatown and that kept them focused and a bit chatty. We weren't disappointed--at mile 21 the dragon appeared and everyone got a renewed sense of excitement. I was surprised that I still felt good and finally realized my hard training was paying off and it would get me to the finish.
My group started trickling off, but new runners kept joining us....having abandoned their faster pacers and desperate to finish. I have never seen so many walkers at this pace. We had to zig-zag through them during our running pace. That was shocking to me. Lots of ambulances could be heard in the distance and two even had to cut us off while we were running. I gave my group an encouraging speech after seeing those ambulances and a few runners down on the course, telling them that as long as they weren't dizzy or nauseous, I was going to get them through. Helicopters were hovering above us, firefighters were out on the course opening their hoses as they had last year, and I was very impressed with how the RD really was prepared this year.
At round Mile 24, I started to feel crummy. Wow! I was thrilled it took that long! I realized we were two minutes off our time, so I made the runners around me dig in a bit to catch up to the time. Of course, we lost some of them, but we made up 30 seconds and I gave them a good walk and encouraging speech when we hit our walk. I didn't see the other 5:45 pacers and was told they were behind me. I was shocked but also afraid we might be behind them and I really didn't want to be last, but knowing I couldnt push any harder, and really wanted to get these runners near me to the Finish. I was left with about 6 women surrounding me, not knowing how many were keeping me within eyesight. I used the stoplights now to run/walk. These ladies needed a visual, and it worked. I kept instructing them to deep breathe and relax their shoulders during the last two miles. As we rounded onto the last .2 of the course, I had only three women next to me and told them we made it and they took off a bit quicker. I ran in the middle of the road, with a big smile on my face, waving my pacer sign, the crowd cheering wildly. It was awesome!
I got hugs after the finish from the three ladies that stuck by me the whole way and it was an overwhelmingly satisfying feeling! I headed to the pacer tent, where I found only one of my pacers--she was right on target. The other pacer showed up 15 minutes later, having struggled the last few miles. I learned a faster pacer wound up in the hospital, getting IVs, but, luckily, going home by late afternoon.
I went out for food and drinks with Willie, Anu and Alex, another of my runners I trained for the Half Marathon, and just finishing his first Marathon. We shared great stories and Willie and Alex convinced Anu and I to join them and Paul at the West Palm Beach Marathon on Dec 6th!
I'm busy icing my legs and hips, but all in all, I feel real good. I am thrilled and proud of myself, and am going to bask in that for quite awhile. I deserve it!! Thanks for sticking by and reading!
Happy Columbus Day!