by Beverly Walley
This race isn’t only running a marathon. It’s an NBR experience. Sean Laude, Nancy Lin, & Matt Goodman curated a Chicago tour de force. Big thanks to them for making sure the crew had options for the fun stuff that comes along with a race weekend.
H.J. & I opted to stay in the Loop area so that we would have an easy walk to the start line at Grant Park. Without a subway, ferry, & bus trip, my brain invented reasons to be anxious — like having a borderline panic attack when my watch read 7:00 AM instead of 6:00 AM. I started sprinting for bag check. H.J. had a non-reaction, “Why are you getting all weird? Do you think it’s 7 AM?” Lesson learned: my Garmin does not auto adjust for time zones.
The point being it is easy to roll up to the start of the Chicago marathon. Plus, they have a famous fountain to stretch by and a million port-o-potties. They do not, however, have Dunkin Donuts coffee everywhere. Anyway, we ran into Casey Baxter and made some poor stranger take a million photos of us.
My start was in Corral E, which was the last red corral. It took about 10 minutes to cross the mat. I tried to get to the 3:45 pace group in my corral, but was finding it too congested. I took a line for the outside and ran behind two girls. They had obviously trained together and had all their splits planned out. Their chitchat was stressing me out. I felt like an unintentional creeper, so I passed them and the 3:45 pace group. Gulp.
The beginning miles weaved through downtown Chicago. Lots of people cheered from the bridges so looking up was very fun. I noticed my first “If Trump can run, so can YOU!” sign — I think that was by far the most popular sign on the course. I didn’t notice much else until I ran into Matt Goodman someplace on LaSalle St. We had a brief hello and I kept picking up my pace. Matt asked me “Are you trying for this pace?” And I replied with the dumbest of all marathon answers, “I don’t even know what pace I am going. I feel good, so I am gonna go with it and hope it lasts.”
I ended up running into another 3:45 pace group…probably for corral D or C. At this point, I figured, “I should hop into this pack and hang on.” We ran steadily, but I really hated it. It felt claustrophobic with too many people bunching up, big guys bumping into me, and, honestly, running slowly. As soon as the road widened at a water stop, I passed the group. I thought, “This is going to come back to bite you at mile 22.”
Next thing that I clearly remember is the amazing NBR cheer squad! I saw Tom Essex & Emily Hafner. Then I ran smack into Madeline Muzzi. She was looking really strong. I waved and she yelled, “What are you trying for?” Truthfully, I wasn’t paying attention to my pace. I hadn’t looked at my watch yet, so I repeated the same dumb thing, “Running by feel. Feeling good, so I am gonna go with it and hope it lasts.” Anyone that has run a marathon will tell you this is a completely stupid strategy.
At the halfway point, I decided to look at my watch for the first time since the 7 AM EST /6 AM CST debacle. It read 1:47. I have run 1:47 half in a marathon before, so I wasn’t overly concerned. I was thinking positively and hoping that my pace would hold to mile 20. Then I planned to see what the last 10K would bring (and I was expecting it would bring pain.)
The second half of the Chicago marathon entered a good neighborhood block party, but then the spectators really thinned out. We ran into a warehouse/industrial zone. I was expecting to fall off my pace soon, so I started downing Gatorade and stockpiling gels. The weird thing was that I still felt great and no one was passing me so I rolled with it.
I hit Chinatown. Loved it! By far my favorite part of the course—the streets narrowed and they had some dope drumming. The rhythm was automatic. It reminded me of NYC. Then I had the best thought ever… you will not hit hills coming out of this section! And I saw the cheer squad again! I distinctly remember Emily and Sara Dirks with little plastic feet.
I ran into Sarah Murphy, flying despite being injured, and Meg Duffy, persevering despite serious cramping. I saw Magda cheering on the right hand side of the road. I was surprised and excited to see her. We roll deep with runners and spectators! Finally, I allowed myself to look at my watch again and thought, “OMG! They aren’t kidding about tall buildings messing with GPS signals.” It was not humanly possible that my time could be correct.
But then it hit me — no one was really passing me. I was definitely ahead of a 3:40 pace group. I never saw a 3:35 group, so I had to be somewhere sandwiched between them. For my age, 3:40 is a BQ. Basically, I was sitting on my big chance and the realization that it was the clock versus me. Normally I would choke.
But not knowing the city or the landscape really helped me. As I approached the final mile, I imagined a Thursday night track workout. As the distance signs reduced, I thought, “You can do anything for 400 meters.” This was the biggest hill in the course as it was up a highway on-ramp. Whatever… I heard Jose’s voice in my head screaming, “Run through the finish. Run through the line.”
Crossing the line, I looked at my watch, still feeling shock. I looked at the race clock, did some math, and started crying. If my math was correct (a big if) I ran 3:36:54. My PR was 3:50:51. Not wanting to look totally insane, I pulled it together, got my medal, my heat sheet, and a free Goose Island.
Two sips into that beer I was like, “Nope, I can’t drink this yet.” So I had two PRs on Sunday, the race and I tossed a free beer. I got my phone and heard from so many NBR people. I really got emotional that so many of you cared to track me. Thank you! I think your positive energy helped me pull off a great race!