Wow - what a crazy day. It definitely was not the happy ending I had been hoping for after four months of diligent training. In short, my aspiration to be a marathon finisher still remains unfulfilled. But it was not because I didn't give it my all - it was because they told me to stop. If you hadn't heard the news, the marathon organizers cancelled the race halfway through due to "extreme heat exhaustion".
That's the short story - if you want *all* the details, read on for my personal anecdote as well as tidbits I picked up from other runners and spectators. Pics at the end!
Back in February, I thought I was so clever for picking the flat, "fast" Chicago race for my first marathon - I was not expecting to deal with ~80 degree weather. However, in the days before the race, I had checked the forecast religiously so I knew it was going to be a hot one. Once I arrived in Chicago, the forecasted heat for the marathon was practically the biggest news in town (next to the Cubs being shut out of the championships).
The morning of the race went perfectly. I ate my breakfast and drank my fluids two hours before the race, got all my gear, lathered on the sunblock & body glide, took my advil, etc etc. During the morning news, they again discussed the heat and stressed that runners should focus on that more than their pace. They expected that runners will probably have to add 10-20 minutes to their finish time. (Remember this point later.) My parents met me in the lobby and walked with me to the race start (like a little kid on their first day of school - haha). I made a pit stop and headed to the corral. I decided to be extra cautious and started near the 11:30 minute/mile pace group. It was all fun and exciting at this point. The gun went off and we all cheered with excitement. And then we just stood there. Heehee... we slowly started walking ahead and I finally crossed the start line 22 minutes later.
It was probably at least 70 degrees at this point. I think within the first mile, I started feeling overheated. Nothing serious... just... ick! But it didn't take long before I really started to heat up. My goal quickly changed from finishing under 5 hours to just finishing period.
Now, I like to minimize what I wear on me as much as possible - for example, I didn't want to deal with a fuel belt. I did wear a slim runner's pack to hold my Gu's and my cell phone but I barely noticed that at all. Luckily, my TNT mentor advised me to carry a disposable water bottle so that I could skip the first aid station since that tends to be the most crowded. And that tip alone SAVED me today.
First aid station went fine. Second aid station - NOTHING. Literally, there was nothing - no tables or anything. Just hundreds of paper cups tossed to the side of the road. They had already run out of fluids. Someone shouted out, "Sue the marathon!" Thank goodness for my water bottle! Third aid station - well, at least they did have Gatorade and water but guess what? No cups!!! If you didn't have your own cup or water bottle, well, you were screwed. This ended up being a common theme for several of the aid stations so I didn't let go of my water bottle for the rest of the race. I saw on the news that a lot of the runners ended up going to convenience stores along the course to buy their own fuel.
It wasn't long before I felt the weather ramping up to full 80+ degree heat. I did my best to deal with the situation by regularly consuming my Gu gels and gatorade & water (when I could get them!!!), etc. I really watched my pace as well. But the heat! Holy crap! It was like this force that completely drained me of any energy I had. I thought the SF hills sucked but I may have preferred them over this. There were several points on the course where I really felt like I was going to pass out / throw up / or both - something I've never experienced before in any race. (And those that know about my history with fainting spells know I am not being overdramatic.) What's worse - when I would stop to take a walking break, I felt even more light-headed. I was really terrified that I was going to pass out during this race! But here's the thing - after training for four months and having all my awesome friends and family support me, I was *not* going to give up. No matter what.
So I struggled through. There were long patches of course out in the open sun with no shade in sight. Those sucked. But every now and then there were some shady areas. So that helped - I felt I could recover a little in those areas. I had my trusty heart rate monitor on, so I checked that regularly to make sure I wasn't pushing myself too hard.
There were some good things. For one thing, the supporters did not disappoint. It seemed like there were spectators along the entire course. And because I had my name on my shirt, it was fun to hear people cheering your name. And I loved all the people with the water hoses - I don't even know how many times I had people spray me down. One nice lady even gave me a baggie with ice cubes and advised me to wear it in my sports bra which did help a lot.
By the halfway point, I think I had slowed down to a little over a 12:00 min/mi pace. Around mile 15, I heard rumblings from one of the aid station volunteers on a megaphone that if we didn't get to a certain point in six minutes, we were going to be taken off the course. I mean, I knew I was slow but I wasn't that slow! I was totally confused and just kept going.
Finally, at mile 18, I slowly clued in to what was going on. I was trying to keep jogging as much as possible but it was getting harder, not only because of the heat, but because everyone around me was walking! It was so hard to get by anyone! Then I heard the announcement on the loud speaker. The race was cancelled due to the heat.
Now at this point, I was getting bits of information from random people so I was really confused as to what was going on. From what I understood, they were cancelling the race because they didn't have enough water and gatorade supplies to keep us hydrated. I still wasn't sure so I asked a cop that was in the middle of the course if the race was cancelled and he confirmed it. Later on, another race organizer started telling everyone over the loudspeakers to stop running and to walk instead. Other runners were saying that they had heard that we had to walk to the next aid station where there would be busses that would take us all back to Grant Park (finish area).
I think I was still in disbelief as to what was going on. I mean, there were still spectators cheering us on. (Although some had signs that read, "Race Over".) It sounded like the organizers wanted us off the course so I just thought race cancelled, might as well head back. I didn't even think any of us were going to get a finisher's medal. So around mile 20 (after not seeing any busses), I just followed the rest of the pack of runners that went off the course to take a "shortcut" back to the finish line.
So we walked and walked and walked and then ended up meeting with the last part of the race. I guess they still kept the course open! I sort of wished I had just walked the rest of the course, but that probably would have added at least another half hour to my finishing time and that would have just made my family more worried. (More on that later.)
We all joined back in and at this point, we were one mile from the finish. I was definitely pooped, but I managed to pick it up to run the last 400m. (And wow, that ended up being a lot harder than I thought!) We finally turned the corner and there it was - the finish line! The awesome part was that I managed to see my parents with their signs right on the sidelines as I headed toward the end. They even had flowers for me which I ran with toward the finish. :) I love my parents!
I also managed to raise my arms for the finish line photo. Well, at least I have a photo to pretend I finished. :P Anyway, if you look up my times, I do have a finish time but obviously it is not a real finish time as I didn't even walk the entire course. Most likely, they will modify this to "Did Not Finish" in the official results. It sucks but I'm getting over it. They did give us all medals, though. Normally, I wouldn't feel like I deserved it - but I really pushed myself until they told me not to, so on that note, I am proud of my accomplishment. However, I did refrain from acquiring any 2007 Chicago Marathon apparel, which was going to be my birthday present from my parents. I'm not sure I need the reminder of how I tortured myself for over five hours on a hot, sunny day. :P
I talked to my parents and my sister after the race, and they also had already heard the news that the race was cancelled. My sister and her family were at the Runners Reunite area waiting for me and they had heard around 12:30PM or so that the race was cancelled and that runners were being picked up in busses to be taken to Grant Park. They also said they heard tons of ambulances going back and forth. (Unfortunately, one runner did die and ~300 other runners were taken to nearby hospitals.)
Meanwhile, my parents were at the finish line where they also heard the news. The announcer apparently said the marathon is now over and now it's a "fun run" for the runners. Sure, I'll go with that.
I felt really bad for my family. I don't pass out a lot, but I get light headed from time to time which my family is well aware of and you know, families overworry. So when they got word about all the heat exhaustion going on, they immediately started worrying about me. I had my phone on silent and my mom's phone went straight to voicemail. When my sister couldn't get ahold of my mom, she thought we were in the hospital! Then my mom commented how she was cheering on all the runners at the finish, but after awhile she stopped because she was so worried that I hadn't arrived yet.
It's not just my family. My good friend PLH also ran the marathon and her parents also came into town for it. After it was taking her a long time to finish, her dad ended up going to the medical tents to see if PLH had been treated by them.
Oh, and remember at the beginning when I said runners should expect to add 10-20 minutes to their finish time? How's this for a data point - PLH has a good friend that runs 4 marathons a year, averaging a 3:35 finish time. Her time today was 4:40! I feel bad for those runners that were hoping to qualify for Boston with this race - like the two people we met yesterday at the pasta dinner.
Part of me is really sad that they cancelled the race on me and all those other runners, but part of me is glad because otherwise, I would have kept going and I probably would have ended up in one of those medical tents.
Luckily, my family is here with me so they already gave me their shoulders to cry on as I had my own private pity party. They're still so proud of me regardless and they don't understand my feelings about me not really finishing. Oh well. Family is easy to please. Seeing my nephew also made me feel better. I got to spend lots of quality bonding time with him this weekend - he is sooooooo cute! He's so much more fun at 3 months than he was at two weeks - heehee. He smiles and laughs and even has these pseudo-conversations with us!
Anyway, there's the whole story - I know it was super long but I figure it'd be easier than me telling the story over and over again. I wanted all of you to know what went down but I don't want any sympathy. It is what it is. I'm disappointed with how things turned out, but I am not disappointed in myself.
I guess at this point, I should announce that "Plan B" is already in place. If you haven't already heard, I am currently registered to run the Walt Disney World Marathon in Orlando in January. I registered back in July before I realized what a pain in the a** it is to train for a marathon. I just thought it would be a fun, laid-back follow up to the Chicago one but I might have to take it more seriously now!
Finally, I just want to thank everyone for all the encouragement and support you've given me over these last several months and especially this weekend, as well. Don't you worry - I *will* be a marathon finisher at some point. Plus I still have the Nike half in two weeks!
On a fun note, I do have some pics from my 20+ mile "fun run" :)
7:00AM Race Morning - Smiling big as I do not know what is to come...
Me and my dad with the poster my TNT mentor made for me
Me and my mom with the poster I made at the expo the day before (I figured they would be more likely to use it if it had their nickname for me)
I took this pic with my cell phone while lined up in the start corral
My mom actually managed to capture this pic during the final stretch before the finish - I don't know who I'm looking at, though
Reunited with my parents at the end (I had wiped away the tears by this point)