I Finished, and I Didn’t Die!!!

What a weekend!  Buckle up, because I have a feeling this is going to be a long post….

We’ll start with Thursday.  Thursday after work, I picked A up from school at 5.  We then wandered around some antique shops downtown, went to dinner (Thai food…I tried something new.  Tofu RED curry.  Not as good as green, but still tasty).  We then went to her art school’s open house.  It was nice…but LONG.  We finally left around 845, got home just after 9, and I frantically started packing.  I got to bed around 1130, slept like poo, and then was up at 330am.

Friday was a day of travel and exhaustion and drinking.  I left home at 415am for the drive to Richmond (my plane ticket was several hundred dollars cheaper to fly from there…but had to live with the nearly 2 hr drive).  I got there at 6am, checked into my flight, made it through security, and proceeded to my departure gate.

They board by calling what zone you’re in.  I was in zone 4 (the very last), so I kept sitting while they boarded everyone else.  They board families traveling with small children, elderly or handicapped, then zone 1, zone 2, and zone 3.  It’s all proceeding very smoothly…until they stop with zone 3.  Meanwhile, there are about 20 or so of us still waiting to be called forth to get on the big plane.  After 5 minutes or so, 6 people come storming off the plane, approach the counter, and start yelling.  I’m not sure what all the ruckus was about, but my guess it had to do with people wanting to switch seats….which they announced several times that our flight was full and there would be no seat assignment changes.  After 10 minutes or so, those 6 people re-boarded, and then our lonely little zone 4 was called.

I get to my seat (an aisle seat near the front of the plane) and I’m put next to Paul Bunyan.  This man was HUGE.  Both tall and wide, he made for a less than ideal travel companion.  It didn’t help that he was a jerk too….through most of the flight between Richmond and Atlanta, he kept elbowing me in the head as well as encroaching on nearly half of my seat.  I’m miserable, he’s a putz, and I eventually lost my cool.  After the millionth time of being smacked in the head, I glared at him.  He very nastily said “What?!?!  I can’t help it…I’m tall!”.  To which I respond…also quite angrily “Are you kidding me??  You don’t think you can be tall and still manage to NOT hit me constantly…in the HEAD?!?!”.  He said a few more nasty things, to which I finally replied, “Listen, I paid for my seat, NOT you, so kindly get out of it and stay out of it.  I don’t care how uncomfortable you may be.  Next time…buy 2 seats or drive to your destination.”.  It was embarrassingly nice to see him try and squish up on himself to stay in the middle seat.  I imagine he was also encroaching on the person in the window seat.  I frankly don’t care.  All the blows to the head (coupled with the long drive and little sleep) gave me a headache and made me less than civil by the end of the flight.

I got to Atlanta and slowly wandered to my gate.  I was wicked early, but didn’t want to pay the Internet access fee, so I listened to my iPod and texted with my husband a bit.  The plane was on time, and boarding was a breeze.  Only problem…smelly, rude, old guy was my traveling companion this time.  Ewww. 

On a nice note, the woman sitting across the aisle from me was wearing a Chicago Marathon fleece vest, so I asked her about it.   She’s a marathon veteran, and this was going to be her 4th time doing Chicago, though she’s done many all over the world.  It was also her first one many years ago – and her favorite.  She was giving me some advice about not going out too fast, etc.  She was really nice and encouraging, and told me that I wouldn’t even notice the first 10 miles because the atmosphere is so groovy.  At that comment I thought her nuts (she’s obviously in running shape and probably thinks these things are easy anyway!).  I smiled, said thanks and good luck, and we deplaned and went our separate ways.

I landed in Chicago around 1130am as planned, got my luggage with no problems, and took the bus to the car rental place.  After nearly an hour long wait in line (they were busy and grossly understaffed), I got up to the counter.  It’s not the employee’s fault that things were going so slowly, and I noticed how rude some of my fellow travelers were, so I made a point of being extra nice to the woman behind the counter.  It doesn’t cost me anything, and just may make her day a little less awful.  To my intense surprise, she gave me a free upgrade to a nice car with a sunroof and everything.  Good karma!

I drove up to WI to pick up my parents.  We took a side trip to drop their car off at the train station, pick up some Starbucks (I was totally wiped by this time), and made our way SLOWLY back to Chicago.  I took off my shoes since I now know there is no law against it after all!

I need to interject here and introduce Darla.  Darla is my GPS unit, and I never travel without her.  My friend S had gotten mad at me last February when I got lost trying to find the rental house in Nags Head because my printed google directions had the wrong address.  Anyway, she admonished me for not having GPS, and got me one!  The first time I used it, it was telling me to turn right ahead…but what it didn’t know, is that it was a 4 lane road in rush hour, and I couldn’t get over to turn.  It kept yelling at me, and I finally yelled back “Shut up Darla, I’m trying!”.  Every since, it has had a name and a personality.  And EVERYONE (friends and family alike), refer to her as Darla.  She generally gets me where I need to go….sometimes in a circuitous route…but I pretty much always get there.

So anyway, after fighting a ton of traffic, Darla got us to the Hilton in Chicago.  We pile out of the car, grab our bags, go to the counter, to find we’re at the wrong one!  Not Darla’s fault…D programmed the wrong Hilton into her before we left, though he meant well and was only trying to help me by pre-programming Darla with all my known destinations in Chicago.  My Dad is cursing my husband and my parents and I repack up the car, pile back in, and start hunting for the correct Hilton…which was actually attached to the airport.  Darla fritzed out a bit, but we eventually got there.  The girl at the hotel was nice, put us in rooms next to each other and close to the elevator.

By this time, it’s 530pm, and I’m starving and exhausted.  The three of us head to the Italian restaurant in the hotel for dinner.  Tony – the Sous Chef – made me a special vegan off-menu delight of wide rice noodles, tomatoes, and veggies.  He also made a cheese-less bruschetta appetizer.  Yum!  I ordered some red wine, my dad a Grey Goose martini, and my mom a brandy old fashioned.  After dinner, my dad and I decide to stay a bit, and my mom goes back to the room.  So here my dad and I sit in the hotel restaurant just talking and telling stories and drinking and having fun.  After several martini’s, he switches to Jack Daniels, and I’m not sure how much wine I drank….but it was a lot.  The bill was obscene, but alas…we had fun.  We apparently got back to the room around midnight.  I’m astounded I’m still awake, my father has no recollection of leaving the restaurant, and needless to say, we both spent Saturday very hung over.  Probably not the wisest thing to do just before my race, huh?

On Saturday, I HAD to go to the marathon Expo in order to pick up my race bib and gear.  Of course, I fully LOVE expo’s anyway, so was really looking forward to it.  However, it was nearly 1pm before my body was in any way capable of being out of bed.  My dad was still incapable of getting out of bed, so it was just my mom and I who went to the expo!  Here are some pictures of that…..


           The McCormick Place that held the Expo                                                                                           

Part of the shopping and product expo vendors.            


VW was one of the sponsors, and this is their Doodle Bug…so everyone took markers and signed it.  Kinda neat.

The Little Rock Marathon race promoters dressed up as Greek Goddesses!

Hot Chocolate 15K race promoters dressed as umpa loompas!

I picked up several cool things (t-shirts, etc) and then we made our way back to the hotel.  Still not feeling wonderful, we headed down for dinner around 530.  I wanted to go to bed REALLY early since the next day was race day!                                                                                             
We went to the other hotel restaurant – a steak place – and this time I had a different take on pasta with tomato basil sauce.  And a salad.  And some Italian bread.  It was pretty good, and I went up to bed pretty much as soon as I was done eating.  I was feeling mostly human, but knew I needed to get up at 330 am again to get the car down to the Grant Parking garage before traffic hell started, and then walk to Union Station to meet my sister’s 6am train.                            
I slept fairly well, woke up, took a quick shower, and left around 4am.  I had laid out all my running gear and dry bag the night before, so I wouldn’t have to worry about it in the morning.  After I parked the car at 436 (according to my parking garage ticket), I walked the mile to Union Station.  I passed a 7-11 on the way and picked up my standard pre-race Clif bar and some Gatorade, which made me intensely happy.  I had brought one with me, but I think I left it in my car in Richmond’s airport, so I was freaking out a bit.  Clif bar’s before a race are my tried and true breakfast, and I get very superstitious about it.  I made it to the station, and just hung out until 6.  Her train was on time, and we walked and talked on the way back to Millennium park where the race start was.  By this time, I was getting really, really nervous!  Fortunately, the energy of the crowd was invigorating, and by the time the race actually started, I was feeling pretty good!  C took a pre-race picture of me (when I was still actually smiling), and I made my way to the open corral where I was allowed to go before the run started.
The National Anthem was sung, and then at 720 am, the wheelchair start began.  At 730, the elite group went, and then the rest of us slowly made our way to the front.  It was 750am when I crossed the start line. 
As usual, the first mile was a bit of a struggle, but then I hit a happy groove and was just enjoying the crowds (both runners and spectators) and the scenery.  I stopped around mile 4 to pee – which was about a 10 minutes pit stop – and then took off again.  And what do you know??  Nice Airplane Lady wasn’t nuts after all.  Before I knew it, I had hit the 10 mile mark, and barely noticed anything at all. 
I had debated about wearing my water bottle fuel belt.  I had thought I would since I was afraid I hadn’t trained well for not needing to hydrate only every 2 miles, it would be nice to have something other than pockets to hold my Gu energy gels, and it was supposed to be uncharacteristically hot (over 85 degrees), so that scared me too.  In the end, I decided I was more worried about the belt causing chafing, and skipped it.  I loaded my running pants pockets with Gu and my iPhone instead. 
The race itself was amazing.  The people both in the race and spectating were so wonderful.  The race organizers did a great job of providing plenty of water and Gatorade stops, that I was glad about my decision to skip the belt.  Every time I stopped, said thank you to whomever was giving me fluids, all I could hear were all the volunteers congratulating and encouraging the runners with “great job”, “keep it up”, “you’re doing wonderfully”, that it was hard to NOT get an extra pep in your step.  One of my favorite moments was this little girl – no more than 14 months old – who was on the edge of the race course with her dad, and giving high-fives to the runners.  Each time she got one, she’d giggle hysterically and it just made me smile.  I gave her a high-five for sure!
There were people there obviously cheering for a friend or loved one, and tons of people just out to support us.  I saw some great signs…like “Beer at the finish”….”Runners have balls…other sports just play with theirs”…and “Beat Oprah”, just to name a few.  There’s an Elvis impersonator around mile 11.  I stopped to take his picture, and he gave me a fist pump!
I don’t think I can articulate all the feelings that went through me.  It was fun.  It sucked.  It was emotional (I started getting weepy around mile 22)…and I cried each time I saw my sister.  Her being there was my favorite part.  I’d text her where I was at…she’d text me where she’d be, and I’d get so excited to hit that mile marker because I knew she’d be there, hug me, and cheer.  I also have to mention all the encouraging text messages S sent me throughout it.  She was my own personal cheerleader from 1800 miles away.  I also had great friends and cousins on Facebook giving me positive messages, which kept my spirits up through the entire event.
I crossed the finish line around 145pm.  According to the Chicago Marathon site, it was 6hrs and 25 minutes.  According to my Garmin GPS unit and stop watch, it was 6hrs and 17 minutes.  I know it’s only the difference of 8 minutes, but I believe my watch.  I spoke to and read posts from several hundred runners who don’t feel the open corral runners were timed right.  Either way, I’m proud.  Sure, it wasn’t a great time by any stretch of the imagination, and so far off my original goal of 4 hrs that it’s pathetic, but I finished.  I crossed the finish line and traversed all 26.2 miles on my own two feet.  I broke down right afterwards (though only for about a minute).  When one of the volunteers put my finishers medal around my neck, I started to cry.  Then he hugged me, which made me cry even more.  I love the volunteers.  They are really the backbone of these things, and I’m going to have to remember to volunteer at the races I don’t do in my area, just to give the support to runners that I’ve gotten. 
Oh, and just to put it out there..I had my new iPod the entire time (the new little clip on Nano) and I listed to FOURTEEN chapters of my True Blood 8 book.  HA.  That’s a LOT of the book in one run!
The race starting line!  Here we go!!! 
Elvis!!  His singing really spurred us on.
One of the parts of the city welcoming us to their neighborhood.
The Hispanic part of town was probably my favorite!  The energy was intense, the crowd was just amazing.  It seemed like the whole neighborhood was out, banging drums, playing music, dressing up (like this 16 foot character) in their cultural best.  They really did a great job of representing their city.

China Town!  Oh boy, did I want to stop for an egg roll.  It smelled wonderful!  There were two men dressed and dancing as Chinese Dragons.  I wish I had a picture, but couldn’t get to that side of the street.  It was just amazing!

Bless the Chicago Fire Department!  All throughout the race, they were posted and spraying us in the icky heat with their huge hoses. 

My finishers medal!

After the race, I made my way to the finishers exit, met up with my awesome sister, and we walked to the Hilton downtown to meet up with my parents for a little post-marathon celebration.  I’m glad I walked and didn’t collapse immediately.  I think it made it easier for me to get up once I DID sit down!  We had some sweet potato fries and a beer.  The whole of downtown was crowded and celebrating, and I am very glad I chose Chicago as the venue for my first marathon.  Sure, not everyone was kind and thoughtful…but most people were.  The city welcomed us with open arms, and I will never, ever forget this experience.  It was intoxicating and inspiring.  My dad told us how he saw a blind runner, I saw men and women with prosthetic legs, runners of all ages, shapes, and sizes, and what is amazing, is we all look in awe at each other.  There is no judgement – only encouragement.  While for some it is truly a competition and how they make a living, for the vast majority of us it’s simply an accomplishment.  My heart broke for all the people I saw dropping out of the race in the medical tent.  I hope they don’t feel disappointed in themselves.  It takes a lot of courage to start something like this. 

My sister and I walked back to the parking garage where we said our good-byes.  She went back to Union Station to begin her train ride back home for her, and I drove my rental car and picked up my parents.  We headed back to the hotel, and I don’t think the fries sat well with me!  After relaxing for a bit, talking to D and the kids, taking probably the most awesome shower of my life (except for the part where I hit the hot water and learned which parts of my body I missed with the Body Glide!), we headed to Chili’s for dinner.  I had half of a black bean burger, some onion strings (because onion rings are a food group), and some broccoli.  We got back to the hotel, and I went to bed.  Sure, I was hurting quite a bit, walking funny, but very, very happy.

Monday morning I woke up early to pack, and we left the hotel at 815am.  I took my parents to Union Station so they could catch their train home, and I headed to the airport.  I grabbed a bite to eat while there, and hopped my plane to Cincinnati.  It was a nice flight (no icky companions), and I met 4 other girls who had been there for the race – 3 who ran, and 1 sister who came to support (just like mine did!).  We were all on the same flight to VA and were seated together, so we all had a great time talking about the run.  The sisters were both marathon veterans, and the others of us were first timers.  We talked about why we picked Chicago, and what our experiences were like.  It was nice to sit and talk to a bunch of strangers about a shared experience.  As we left the baggage claim, we all hugged, said congrats to each other and left.  I realized after, that we never even exchanged names, but talked animatedly for hours about our weekend.  Kinda cool.

My drive home was relaxing and traffic was good.  I stopped to grab a wrap and smoothie on my way, and when I pulled into the driveway, D and the kids were standing there waving and ready to hug me and welcome me home.  It was totally awesome.

So now I’m home and thinking about what comes next.  First, I can’t workout until my body stops being sore.  That can take 2 days to 2 weeks.  I feel pretty good all things considered, but my muscles are sore.  Nothing wrong with the knees or anything like that, so I escaped the marathon injury free!  I also have NO blisters.  I think I need to send a letter to Brooks Running (who makes my shoes – the Ravenna) about how amazing their shoes are.  I saw some poor people after the race with torn up feet.  Thankfully (to brooks and to Final Kick sports who fit them on me), I had great shoes!

Yesterday on the trip home I kept thinking about what I want to do next.  I do know that I want to run another marathon for sure.  I wasn’t sure how I would feel about that (especially at mile 23 where I was walking and thinking about how much this sucked!), but after a day, I realized that I’m hooked.  I don’t know if it’ll be Disney (which sounds totally awesome), Richmond, or Philly (always wanted to go, and my youngest is obsessed with the Liberty Bell).  But I know it’ll be one of them.  Or all of them!  I can tell you right now though…for the next couple of weeks, I’m sticking to swimming 🙂

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I am a 45 yo busy career single mom and doctoral student attempting to find her inner athlete, be a gluten-free(ish) vegan, and find a way to balance it all without going crazy! I love to cook, read, run, box, do yoga, dance, travel, and learn as many new things as I can - which often gets me in trouble.... I am passionate about life in general, and if I didn't write about it, I'd probably implode.

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