First, I need to say this. If anyone is contemplating running in their first race, I'd like to encourage you to sign up for one of the many events the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon offers. Their fourth annual event is scheduled for next year on the last weekend in May, and there's everything from a 5K, 10K, half marathon, full marathon, marathon relay, and even a 1K youth run. Despite the enormous task of providing a great experience for over 18,000 runners, the entire event is a smooth running operation. The 3,000 volunteers that make this weekend possible are the friendliest, most encouraging, and kindest people I've ever come across during an event like this. The spectators line the entire race route and provide additional encouragement and entertainment with everything from clapping, cow bells, tambourines, funny signs, horns, music, and in some cases even extra refreshments. Because of the spectators alone, I spent the majority of the race wishing I had my camera with me to accurately capture all the blog worthy images. The route is scenic, mostly flat (although even the slightest incline is detected once you get into mile 9) and, for me at least, nostalgic. And there is just nothing quite like running into the stadium only to see yourself captured on the big screen in the south end zone, knowing that your friends and family are there waiting for your return.
So, the race. Naturally I'm sure you'll understand if I don't get all the details matched up to the correct mile. I've tried to jot down some memorable moments from along the route for your entertainment and my memory. Most of these that are assigned to specific miles are close estimates. 13 miles of running leads to a decreased capacity to restore things into short term memory.
The Start: I met ABT in the lobby of our hotel and rode with her and four of her P-Town running buddies to the start. Their energy was exactly the kind of atmosphere I needed to be in the morning of a race like this one. Thank you, ABT & friends, for calming my nerves and providing laughs that kept me from the nervous puke. Upon exiting the vehicle we quickly discovered that the wind was fierce and the temperatures a bit chilly for shorts & t-shirt attire; and seeing all the other runners prepping for their races was equally intimidating and thrilling. Just after 7 am ABT and I went our separate ways - her and her friends scouting out the best area to enter the line of runners and me taking off for FAR behind their start zone toward runners closer to my caliber of athleticism. I found the 2:30 pace runner (guessimated age: 65) and settled in a bit behind her. I was about five feet in front of the orange and blue Darth Vader. After the 10k runners were sent on their way the nervousness and excitement really started to kick in. I gave one or two "This is so stupid" exclamations to the girl I was chatting with for good measure (those were for you, Tru Stories), and at the 30 seconds to start announcement I was holding back tears. And then we were off.
Mile One: Running down First Street past the stadium was quick with the wind at our backs and sort of chaotic. There were 7,500 runners entered in the half-marathon and although we were staggered by predicted pace it was still difficult to find your position. Everyone was polite but there was definitely some bumping going on out there. Images of tripping on someone's shoe and ending my race before it even started were at the forefront of my mind, but soon enough I was able to secure a spot. That first mile flew by. In this first mile I thought to myself there can not be a better atmosphere to run a race than on a college campus. Where else can you run past a lawn full of cheering frat boys with beers in hand and music blaring or a house full of college students screaming their ever loving heads off, offering their own version of a hydration station with Solo cups filled to the brim with (probably warm, cheap) beer all before the end of the first mile? I saw one runner take a sip from the red Solo cup handed out to him and I thought the guys offering it were going to lose their minds with excitement. Ah, the future leaders of America...
Mile Two: I sort of think the markers for miles one and two might have been a little off because as quickly as we approached the first mile marker, the second seemed to take forever to reach. There were several highlights along this stretch of the race though including the turn onto Green Street (the main roads running through the heart of campus), seeing my first puke sighting just before Walgreens, and marveling at how much this portion of campus has changed in ten years. The best part of this mile though - and probably a top three favorite memory of the entire race - is that just after I passed the 2:30 pace runner (someone I had been searching for since the start of the race) my random shuffling iPod played the 3 in 1 at the exact moment I was running past The Alma Mater. *chills* I gave her a quick salute in honor of all my fellow U of I grads, kicked up the pace a little bit, and got lost in the beat of the drum. CHIEF!
Miles Three and Four: They were relatively unremarkable. The only thing I can really remember that stands out from this portion of the race was thinking "I remember when I thought it was a long way to drive from campus. And now I'm running the distance?This is insanity". The only thing that really sticks out is the Mile Four marker. At this exact moment Em's "Born to Run" suggestion filled my ears and made me think of her. Also at this exact moment we passed the Elvis impersonator and the town's strip club. I really wasn't sure how to process that information, but it made me laugh.
Running through this part of town is when I started seeing some of the best signs of the race. My favorites included "Puke and Rally", "Run like you stole something", "Gas is $4.30. Keep Running. It's Cheaper" and the one with the picture of Justin Bieber and "Never Say Never" (that made me thing of Punkin and how just the day before she blew on a dandelion and wished that JB would appear). Other great signs throughout the route were "You look like a Kenyan!" (mile 9ish) and a woman holding a sign that said "Don't Stop" and her husband three feet away holding another one that said "That's what she says". Seriously, the spectators were awesome. It was also during this part of the race when I started paying attention to the people around me. There was a pack of three - one woman holding a small Union Jack flag, a man holding a toy scepter, and a third woman wearing a tiara with the sign "I'm running from the paparazzi" on her back - paying tribute to the Royal Wedding, and another woman who had the goals of survival, no injuries to herself or others, and not puking as the recipe for a success race spelled out on her shirt. Running with me almost the entire race was a girl with one of those "Baby on Board" signs pinned to the back of her shirt. I could barely peel myself off the couch to dish up another serving of ice cream when I was pregnant, so I had to give her mad props. There was one woman kicking it old school with a Walk-Man (as in cassette), and a man with the profound statement of "Running is hard, living with Autism is harder" on his shirt. Talk about perspective! And I noticed several scripture inspired quotes on the back of people's shirts. I think we were all calling on Jesus at some point so I guess that was pretty fitting as well.
Mile Five: This stretch will forever be remembered as the moment we hit some serious mother trucking wind. I also got sweat on for the first (but not last) time. Having had almost a permanent smile on my face up until this point, it was at mile five that this jubilant shine started to fade.
Mile Six: I started to get hungry. I ran forward remembering the advertised GU station at this marker. I ran past the hydration stations with no GU in sight except for all the empty packets discarded on the road under my feet. Kept running with the thought of getting my first drink of water at the next hydration station.
Mile Seven: First drink, solidifying the fact that in future training sessions I need to work on gracefully getting water into my mouth and NOT all over my face while still running. Seriously, at one point in the race I splashed so much water into my eye that I almost lost a contact. I'm pretty sure the volunteers laughed at me, but I didn't even care. It was also at this point in the race that I lost the ability to do simple math calculations. I seriously couldn't subtract seven from thirteen to determine how many miles I had left to run. Luckily at that moment I looked to my right at saw this sign: "Only 5.9 miles to beer". I'm telling you, these spectators are SO helpful!
Miles Eight and Nine: This was probably the hardest part of the race for me (except for pinning on my race bib which is insanely difficult). Most of these miles were through Meadowbrook Park and despite the pretty surroundings I felt as though we were never going to make it out of there. I don't know if it's because we were funneled onto narrower park sidewalks or what, but I started feeling almost claustrophobic and by the nine mile mark I could not wait to get out of there. The fact that the sun suddenly emerged making the temperatures rise probably played a part as well. I did see a man running with his socks rolled down a la Vince which made me smile.
Mile Ten: This is the only point where I could feel my body start to revolt. The legs suddenly felt like lead, my shoulders were tight, my head felt too heavy for my neck to support. At one point I swear I thought I was hallucinating: turning suddenly to look behind my left shoulder because it sounded like a rabid dog was growling behind me, I saw a man instead making some kind of crazy guttural running noises. I also found myself running next to Mr. Sweatsalot in this mile. This guy was wearing a hat and was sweating so profusely that a steady stream of sweat ran along both sides on the brim of his hat where they met in a stream of perspiration then fell off the front of the brim in front of his face. Being splashed for the second time with someone else's bodily fluids meant resorting to a happy place. "He's got an under-the-hat irrigation system. It's just water. No human being can sweat that much and still be running. It's unnatural" was the mantra I uttered to myself I was passed him as quickly as my body would allow. Also in this mile was an unmanned medical cart because the EMT on duty was standing away from vehicle taking a cigarette break. If that's not irony at its finest...
Mile Eleven: Finally I reach a GU station but grab the Chocolate Explosion. It tastes just like chocolate frosting but eleven miles into a run that is strangely not as satisfying as one might think. With two miles to go and finally back on campus, I start to get a little pep back in my step. John Denver's "Country Roads Take Me Home" feels my ears helping me find my stride again.
Mile Twelve: The stadium is in sight. The Navy officers are ringing their bell with great enthusiasm. I make the turn just outside the Law Building and Krannert Art Museum knowing there is just over one mile left to go. "I'm really going to do this," I think to myself. Tears return, and as I turn onto first street I can feel the luck of the Irish with the wind at my back pushing me toward the finish line.
Mile Thirteen: Only a few feet away from entering Memorial Stadium running on a downhill slope, I can literally feel adrenaline take over. I make the turn and before me is easily one of the most welcoming sites I have ever seen. Beneath me the turf is soft; from the field, the stadium doesn't seem as immense as I thought it would. With a smile on my face, my arms pumping, and my legs moving as fast as I could I finally crossed the finish line as the clock ticked 2:30:47.
Holy shit, I just ran a half-marathon. Official chip time: 2 hours, 26 minutes, and 7 seconds (four minutes under my pie-in-the-sky goal).
It was no more than five minutes after crossing the line that I heard someone yell my name. I turned just in time to see ABT running - RUNNING! - across the field toward me. Easily another top favorite memory from the event. I might have blamed her for getting me into the mess in the first place, but without her encouragement I would have probably never done it. So thank you again, ABT, for planting the seed that got me to accomplishing one of my bucket list dreams.
That being said, I am in serious deliberation with myself to making an amendment to said Bucket List. While I still believe running a marathon is a feat that is awe inspiring, after yesterday's race I'm thinking it might not be for me. I like to think that I know my body's limits, and given the knee pain I experience after long runs I'm just not sure 26.2 miles is in the cards for me. That, and the fact that at the point where the half and marathon routes split I thought to myself, "There is no way in hell you could make me take that turn right now" tells me that maybe my heart isn't in it as much as I thought. So for now I'm going to revel in the accomplishment of running 13.1 miles (PS - winning marathon time was only seconds off my time at half the distance) and give a hearty shout out to those who did and will finish the marathon. You people are warriors.
I want to thank all of you again for providing me with your good thoughts, encouragement, and prayers as I embarked on this adventure. I know it sounds cheesy, but believe me when I say that I felt you out there on that route. Now I guess it's time to check that list to see what's next. Right now that trip to Hawaii sounds like just the right follow-up.