Chicago is one helluva town.
This race could not have gone any better. I was calm beforehand. I was on my game during. I was so elated afterward.
Did you see a girl at the finish line laughing deliriously aloud to no one? That was me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
THE NIGHT BEFORE
Aaron, his mom Greta, his stepdad Mark, and I waited two hours to get into Kuma’s Corner for burgers. I needed to rest my legs, so we had some nice family bonding time while sitting on a dirty Chicago sidewalk. Memories!
The burger I ordered was amazing, but pretty much a gutbomb. I mean…
…yeah. I knew it might make for a horrible race, and yet I took the cheesy, creamy, medium-rare gamble. (Spoiler: It shockingly paid off. Pretzel bun for the win?)
I think I went to sleep around 10 that night and woke up at 5:15 on race morning. Our hotel, the Silversmith, was a mere two blocks from the start line at Millennium Park, but I wanted to have plenty of time to eat breakfast, digest, go to the bathroom, etc.
My breakfast was this simple, perfect meal (minus the toast) from Corner Bakery Cafe, which I had purchased the day before and stored in the mini fridge.
I had to eat it cold, but in terms of stomach-friendliness and similarity to what I would normally eat before a long run at home, it was a big win.
Since we were already so close to the start line, I made it my mission to take care of my bathroom business at the hotel so I wouldn’t need to line up for the pre-race porta potties. Another big win!
Aaron and I headed to the start line around 6:50.
The sun was rising and I was trying, rather unsuccessfully, not to cry. I always get so dang emotional before these things.
Aaron walked me as far as he could before I gave him my jacket and we said our goodbyes. More tears.
I failed to bring throwaway clothes, so I was a little chilly in the 48-degree morning air, but I quickly warmed up thanks to the mass of humanity around me. Trying to squeeze thousands of runners into a corral with a one-person-wide entrance = fun times.
I looked around Corral D a bit for Sharon, but didn’t find her, so I just stood around awkwardly and retied my left shoe about a billion times to achieve the perfect tightness. So important.
At one point an older Korean man approached me with his phone outstretched, gesturing as if he wanted me to take a picture of him… but it turned out he wanted to take a picture WITH me. Um, sure? A nearby runner proceeded to take at least 20 photos of us from different angles until the man was satisfied. He gifted me with a keychain from Korea in return, then proceeded to initiate photo shoots with other random runners in the corral.
He came all the way from Korea to run Chicago and didn’t seem to speak a word of English, but damn it, he was making friends and memories. It made my heart happy.
ERMAHGERD, THE RACE!
I expected it to take 10-15 minutes from the 7:30 gun time for me to cross the start line, but the corrals moved quickly and smoothly, and my Garmin shows that I started at 7:36!
My race plan was to run the first 20 miles or so between 9:10 and 9:15 pace, and then pick it up from there if I felt good. That was it. I truly wanted more than anything to have a good race, to feel strong and capable, and to never give up more than I wanted any specific finish time.
Mile one was a wee fast. I tried to rein in my excitement and settle into an easy, steady pace.
My cheer squad first appeared at mile two!
Greta was registered to run as well, but had to drop out due to an ankle injury. I’m so grateful she still came to Chicago to have a fun vacation with us and cheer me on!
I felt great at mile two, obviously. I am that insufferable runner who is smiling in practically every race photo, but I was truly smiling much of the time during this race! I’ve read that smiling relaxes your whole body, so it’s great to bust out a grin if you feel yourself tensing up while running.
And Chicago made it easy for me — the crowds were energetic from mile one to 26, with nonstop cheering, cowbells, vuvuzelas, music, and hilarious signs (“Don’t stop running — you’re not the government!”) to keep us runners entertained. It was by far the best crowd support I’ve ever experienced, and it played a huge part in helping me stay positive and motivated throughout the race!
Love it when it looks like I’m power-walking.
Mile four was a little fast and mile six was a little slow (my slowest of the entire race), but other than that, my pace stayed steady. I took a vanilla Gu at mile 4.5 and a chocolate one at mile 9. I skipped the first few aid stations and just sipped my watermelon Nuun, but around mile 10 or so, I began grabbing water at each aid station so I could sip a little and dump the rest on my head. There were zero clouds in the sky and the sun was climbing higher above the buildings. While it was by no means hot yet, I wanted to make sure to stay cool.
The whole time, I was really looking forward to seeing Aaron and Greta again at mile 13. I had planned to take another Gu at 13.5, but started wanting it a bit earlier, so I was in the midst of eating it when I saw my cheer squad.
Even Gu does not prevent me from waving.
You may notice that I carried my sunglasses the whole time. I figured I would eventually put them on once the sun got higher, but I never did! My mighty Nuun visor was enough. And, oddly, I didn’t mind carrying them.
Mile 13 was awesome because of (a) the boost I got from seeing Aaron and Greta and (b) the fact that I crossed the 13.1 timing mat at 2:00:47, which was the moment I KNEW I could break four hours.
During my training, I tried to run a negative split for every long run to teach my body how to run faster when tired. But could I actually pull it off over 26.2 miles?
I didn’t question myself like that during this race. I knew that if I stayed positive, nothing could stop me.
I saw that my mile 13 split was a little fast and forced myself to slow down. I knew I needed to keep churning out the miles at a comfortable pace in order to save some juice for the end. I kept telling myself these things over and over:
“This is a 20-mile warmup for a 6.2-mile race.”
“You have plenty of time later to pass all the people who went out too fast.”
I ate my fourth Gu between miles 17 and 18. I had packed three vanilla and three chocolate into my shorts and fuel belt, but the vanilla tasted so much better to me, so I kept reaching for those all in a row.
I was nervous to hit mile 20 because that was where I fell apart during Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll. I knew if I could get through 20-22 without hitting a wall, I would be golden.
Enter: the Alexi Pappas mantras.
Alexi Pappas is a pro runner who did a series of epic cheers for her friend Jordan Hasay while she raced a 10K on the track. I have watched the video of it (seriously, watch it) numerous times and repeated some of the mantras to myself during training. They came through for me in a big way during this race.
“YOU ARE A MERMAID!”
“YOU’RE HUUUGE! YOU’RE GIGAAANTIC!”
“NEW LEGS, BABY GIRL!”
I could not believe those splits. I. Was. Killing. It.
Every time my legs started to feel tired, I just told myself, “NEW LEGS, BABY GIRL!” Also, my left IT band started to feel just a bit tight during mile 22, so I gave it a stern talking to — “Nope, not today. Absolutely not.” — and then ignored it.
The last 6.2 miles are truly all mental.
I saw Aaron and Greta again at mile 21.5-ish and wanted to let them know I was having a great race, so I chose this facial expression to convey that:
Thumbs-up on one hand and Gu #5 in the other. Whole lotta crazy on the face.
Apparently Aaron’s cousin TJ, who lives in Chicago, was at mile 21 with them, but I was too cracked out on excitement to notice.
Thanks for coming, TJ!
I was shocked that I had zero stomach trouble during this race. Usually the thought of energy gel becomes completely repulsive somewhere after mile 20 and I either have to force it down or go without, but the stars aligned for me that day and made Gu taste like buttah.
Either late in mile 22 or early in 23, I ran into my Seattle friend Kristin! I was all like, “OH HAI GIRL!” and she was all like, “I’m hurting,” and I was all like, “Nooooooooo!”
I tried to be motivating without being too annoying and said something like, “We’re at Green Lake right now! We’re just running three miles around the lake! We’ve done this hundreds of times!”
We didn’t talk much, but at some point I told her I thought I could finish under four hours. Just before we reached the mile 24 marker, she said something like, “Go ahead — get your sub-four.”
I felt terrible for leaving her, but I knew it was now or never for me to kick it to the finish. (Kristin wound up PRing with a 4:05!)
I have no explanation for what follows other than that once I knew sub-four was within clear reach, I wanted it so badly. I cranked it up to suicide pace for the last few miles and never looked back.
You know how when you’re super tired, you think you’re running fast, but you’re really not? Somehow, some way, I was actually running fast.
This is why I am so proud of this race.
Pure adrenaline pushed me through these last miles. My lungs were feeling the effort, but my legs were flying. I had to weave around lots of runners who had slowed down, and I saw plenty who were walking or hunched over on the sidelines.
I felt really awful for those runners because, man, I’ve had that race. But thanks to a combination of factors under my control (good training, a positive attitude) and factors out of my control (ideal weather, strong stomach), this race, for me, was fucking unicorn magic.
I sprinted across the finish line with my arms in the air and the biggest, stupidest smile on my face. I stopped my Garmin at 3:59:17, but my official time was 3:59:13 — a nine-minute PR and sub-four by the skin of my teeth!
It actually took me a few seconds to really believe that I had done it and that I could stop running. I was afraid that my sub-four was a mistake and I actually had a little farther to go. When I realized for sure that I was truly done, that’s when I started maniacally laughing out land, completely drunk on endorphins.
Go home, Devon, you are drunk!
I was amazed by how good I felt after finishing. I have a history of winding up in the medical tent after marathons, but for the first time, I actually walked like a normal human being to get my space blanket, medal, water, swag, and a legit finisher’s photo!
Third marathon. First marathon finisher’s photo. That in itself was an achievement for me.
We all had to keep walking for-e-ver — at least a mile — to get to the area where we could meet up with our family members. I finally made my way to the big sign with the letter “P” and did not see my peeps, so I borrowed a kind stranger’s cell phone and called Aaron to make sure they knew to meet me there. It took them a while to get there after traipsing all over the course on foot. They were just about as tired and sore as I was!
Best. Spectators. Ever. And the cutest, too!
How many photos of me with my medal is too many?? OK, last one.
You deserve a medal if you made it through that recap. I hope it didn’t come off all like, “OMG I’m so amazing at marathons!!!” because I fully realize that I just happened to have a really good day, and my next marathon could just as easily be crap. (Please no.)
But, I do think it made a huge difference to focus mostly on having a good, fun race rather than hitting a specific time. Wouldn’t you know that taking my main focus off the time is what led to me hitting the time I really wanted all along.
Very clever, life. Very clever indeed.