Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Chicago Marathon Race Recap

Goals:

Goal 1:  PR (Sub 2:40:30)
Goal 2:  Sub 2:40
Goal 3:  Top 10 American Female
Goal 4:  Top Bank of America Employee Finisher

Actual:

PR
2:38:47 via 1:18:03 / 1:18:42
6th American Female, 14th Overall Female
1st Bank of America Employee Finisher (Male or Female)

Splits: 

5:53/6:05/5:51/6:10/6:03/6:01/5:58
6:04/6:03/6:01/5:59/6:03/60:6/6:01
6:03/6:06/6:07/6:01/5:58/5:57/6:03
6:09/6:07/6:09/6:03/6:10/1:22

What a year!  What a day for a race!  I'm about to PR!  After what I've been through this year? Caitlin, you're amazingly tough.    


Nothing too incredibly deep in the paragraph above, but you'll have to forgive marathon brain at mile 26, coming in to the home stretch to finish a marathon.  As I outlined in my blog in October, a lot of things changed in my life earlier this year, including my marital status and permanent place of residence.  Undoubtedly, as I ran down that final straightaway on Columbus Avenue in Chicago, I was really proud of myself more so for recovering emotionally from a setback than I was for running a personal best.  Let's recap the specifics of the race.

I arrived in Chicago on Thursday night, with an incredible excitement to see my good friends Laurie, Lauren and Rachel and, of course, to finally put my training to the test!  I'll skip out on the details of all the days leading up to the race, but want to ensure that I mention how phenomenal the race organization committee is at Chicago.  The entire team is professional, supportive and detail-oriented so that they do indeed successfully host one of the largest marathons in the world.  The elite coordinator, Tracey, did a fabulous job ensuring that our entire group was taken care of.  I felt so proud to be a Bank of America employee - after all, we have an entire team dedicated to organizing this race. 

After a pre-race dinner with my mom and dad, my brother Ben and my boyfriend Peter, I said good night and ensured everyone knew to meet in the VIP tent after the finish.  (Side note:  another perk of being an employee meant that I was able to secure tickets to the VIP tent for my friends and family, so that they were well-fed and sufficiently heated while I traversed the streets of Chicago).  

By the time the alarm went off at 4AM and I started getting ready, I was grateful to be rooming with Laurie, my friend and former training buddy from Charlotte, because we both are pretty calm and collected during race morning prep.  Not too serious, not too chill.  After a bag check, a metal detector scan, and a half mile bus ride, we arrived at the elite tent in the heart of Grant Park.  After what seemed like an agonizingly long time, we finally were ushered to the start line, where we waited another 20 minutes until the gun went off.  With a few final good lucks, fist pumps, high fives and high skips, we finally got into the starting position, poised for a (hopefully) great race.

The gun went off and Laurie, Rachel, Lauren and I all tried to stick together.  The first 5 miles were exceptionally difficult because so many men from Corral A, who are indeed running 2:30 or faster marathon times, kept passing us. I had no concept of what pace I was running, and the Garmin lap pace function wasn't reliable with the tall buildings. So when we came through the first mile in 5:53, I knew not to panic and Laurie and I both said to the group "let's dial it back".  

By the second mile, we came through right at 603, so my nerves calmed a bit....But by mile 3, we were back at 551 and I quickly dismissed thoughts that this would just become a repeat of CIM 2013, where I ran 1:18:xx and 1:22:xx. Instead, I reminded myself of what Terry had told me, which was "if you run a 5:50, you can run a 6:10." So, that's exactly what we did in the next mile. I remember the cumulative time on the race clock was right around 24:00 at this point, so I felt reassured I hadn't completely thrown this race in the crapper just yet. I could hear Rachel telling Lauren that it would be okay if we backed off a bit and I consciously did that.  Laurie was saying the same thing too, but what she really meant was "let's assess how we feel" and I could tell she was going to have a great day. Soon enough, Laurie took off with the Irish girl around 5 miles.  That would be the last time I saw her during the race.  Instinctively, I fell back a couple steps to be closer to Rachel and Lauren. By mile 7, we finally found a group of men trying for our pace and I tried to tuck in behind them, or at least alongside, because the cross/head wind was pretty strong. By mile 10, we had formed a fully functional group of runners, with two latinos fearlessly (and gladly) leading the way.  It's surprising to me that when these early miles of the race were some of the most stressful because I was fretting so much about hitting the right pace.  I probably wasted some precious energy just by being stressed.

The fortunate highlight during the first half of the race included the overall spectacular crowd support, including seeing my friends Mark and Jess, my family and Peter, and my high school coach.  The unfortunate highlight included dropping the first three of my elite fluids, which meant that I didn't get to execute my planned fueling strategy.  I could not believe that I literally dropped every single one through 15K.  I even asked Rachel and Lauren if they had any gels that I could borrow, and they didn't.  I cursed out loud after dropping the third one. I tried not to panic. Soon, I reminded myself that Terry had trained me to be prepared for exactly this type of situation.  After all, I had done numerous long runs without any water or gels.  I changed my strategy in two ways:  (1) I started grabbing my bottles with two hands instead of one to ensure the bottle would not slip precariously from my grip and (2) I drank more gatorade from the race aid stations.  I wanted to make sure that I still got lots of sugar or carbs to prevent any early bonking from occurring. The only negative was that it made my stomach feel kind of weird.  When I did finally have a honey stinger gel at 20K, I downed it so fast that it made my stomach churn. Not much later, that feeling passed. In terms of overall fueling compared to previous marathons, I consumed much fewer calories.

Around 12 miles, I heard and saw my high school coach who literally just drove up five hours and straight back home to see me at two different spots in the marathon. It was awesome! At the halfway point, I saw that we were right at 1:19:0x and I looked at Rachel and Lauren and said, "we're perfect you guys!" And for the first time in the race, Lauren spoke. She turned to me with a huge grin on her face and said "yeah, we are!" I felt so happy! Even though she hadn't said anything before, I always felt her calm, confident presence which made me feel so much more relaxed.

The pack forms
After halfway, I began to notice the wind a lot more. I'm not sure if it actually picked up, or if I turned more towards it, or if I was just starting to get tired. I tried as best I could to tuck in behind Nacho (from Spain) and Hector. They were my very gracious leaders of the pack. I offered my elite fluids to them at one point and they looked at me like I was crazy. :)  I found out later via Nacho's blog that he likes being at the front of the pack and didn't mind that I wasn't making any effort to break the wind for the group (PHEW!).  

At mile 16, Lauren pulled away slightly and I considered going with her, but decided that it was too early and that I should be conservative. I told myself to stay tucked in with my guys until at least 22 and then to make a decision to move past them. For a while, Lauren was just about 15-20 seconds ahead of me, but after mile 21, I could tell she was feeling great and was running 600 or right under. From miles 18-21 I passed at least 3 women, and I tried to tell each of them to tuck in with our pack. 

It also was extremely encouraging to pass through some latin neighborhoods because they went absolutely nuts when they saw Nacho and Hector who both had their country names proudly printed on their jerseys. Some of the fastest splits of my race were posted during these miles 19 and 20, mostly because Nacho and Hector were clearly energized by the support.  By 23, I noticed that the pace had slowed a bit, so I somewhat reluctantly moved to the side and tried to continue running the same pace. I began passing several guys, even though I didn't feel like I was speeding up and instead felt like I was barely hanging on. I was nervous to look at my splits at this point, but I'm really glad that I did because I saw that I was still under 6:10 pace. I was surprised, because I felt pretty shitty at this point.  Even if my legs felt pretty dead at this point, they were still strong enough to carry me to that finish line in a respectable pace! I was overjoyed!  At mile 25, I saw another decent split and told myself that I just had 5 more laps on the track. I saw Tim Meigs and told him good job, but that was all I could muster.  He said "I should have stayed with you" and I couldn't even respond.  Just get to the finish, I thought, and try to power through. I loved seeing the 800m to go sign and willed my legs to go faster. At the one "hill" in the race, I was really starting to feel the effects of running 6:02 pace for 26 miles, so I was grateful for the left turn to the finish line.
 
As I "sprinted" down the final straightaway, I heard the announcer say that I am a Bank of America employee who made the elite group. That was really special. I ran through the finish line and was immediately greeted across the fence by my family.  I smiled knowingly at them and turned around to check for Tim crossing the line.  After guzzling a water, I finally made my way outside of the finish chute and was pulled into hugs from my family.  They had experienced firsthand the struggles from earlier in the year, and I could tell my mom was a little overcome with "proud mom" emotions.  


After making my way to the elite tent (with my family as an escort) to gather my stuff, the day was made even more special to find out that both Lauren and Laurie had ran PRs.  It was exhilarating to feel the buzz of excitement and pride, the feelings of success contagious among us all. After changing out of my sweat-drenched clothes, Laurie and I got a celebratory mimosa in the VIP tent before taking our mandatory golf cart back to the hotel to check in with the race organizers. In the middle of all the post-race chaos, there was a voice in the back of my head saying:  I knew you would do it.  Afterwards, when I had time to reflect, I realized the true power of running, and its therapeutic effect to facilitate recovery, reflection and transformation.  With this, I was able to finally put into words what this race really meant to me:

This race represented so much more to me than just getting a fast time. It was about proving to myself that I can overcome struggles in my life with resolve, dedication and a happy spirit. Running helped me channel all of these qualities into the culmination of this race and it means so much to me that I was able to use those track workouts in Durham when my marriage fell apart, those runs with Jenna when she was training for Grandma's Marathon and I was recovering from my heart break and finding myself, those runs with all my new guys who weren't freaked out that I stalked them through Strava to find running buddies, to those late nights spent getting to know Peter who loves me....all of this helped me get to Chicago with an intense need to prove to myself that I'm one tough chick who can overcome anything. 


My support crew

Laurie (2:36:00) and Caitlin (2:38:47)

Immediately post race with my family
That's what a proud boyfriend looks like


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