Chicago Marathon: I Was Born to Run 10-10-10

[Title refers to this video.]

First of all, I really can’t thank everyone enough for your encouragement. I was very honest about how nervous I was about running a marathon, and I got all kinds of great e-mails, comments, tweets from people who knew much more about running a marathon than me. In the days leading up to the marathon, I got far more messages than I could keep up with. So if I haven’t gotten back to you yet, just know that I definitely read and smiled at your e-mail or tweet.

Now, on to my recap of my first marathon!! 

When the alarm on my phone started blaring “Put a Ring On It” at 5am yesterday, I hopped out of bed. (I put a really loud song on so that I’d have to hop right out of bed.) Inside, I was freaking the hell out, but I tried to play it cool because the other girls didn’t seem to be freaking out too much. 

I woke up to some stomach trouble, which freaked me out even more. Would I have to stop every 3 miles to use a port-a-potty? I popped some Immodium and figured there was nothing more I could do about my stomach, and I started eating a banana and a Clif bar. Bananas are easy to digest, so I went for the banana first. I could only get about halfway through the Clif bar, so I brought the rest with me to nibble on at the start line.

My mom was staying in the same hotel as me while I stayed with my friends, so she came down just before I was to leave so we could walk over to Laurel’s hotel together, so she could watch with Laurel’s mom. My hands were too shaky for me to pin my bib on, so she helped:

And a shot of all the girls:

Let me say it again: these were awesome roomies. We had so much fun, and that took my mind off of the marathon as much as possible. I didn’t start thoroughly freaking out until the night before the race. That’s pretty impressive. I even slept like a rock the night before, which is unheard of for me the night before a major race.

My mom and I walked over to Laurel’s hotel, and Laurel and I walked over to the start together:

As Laurel and I were about to say goodbye, who happened to walk by? E! This was amazing, because we were able to line up together and even run the first mile together.

[Sorry for the shady pic. She keeps her blog anonymous, so I respect her wishes.]

While it was awesome rooming with girls who’d run marathons before and walking over with speed-demon Laurel, starting the race with a fellow marathon virgin was actually perfect—we both were feeling exactly the same way: nervous, excited and overflowing with emotion.

We weaved through thousands of people to sneak our way into the 4:30 pace group, which was the ideal time both of us were hoping for. (Yeah, yeah, even though you’re “not supposed to” have a time goal for your first marathon.) I figured that even if I couldn’t achieve 4:30, at least I’d be in front of the walkers/run-walkers. 

My Garmin had no problem initially picking up satellite reception, but not even 1 mile in, it lost reception under a tunnel. FAIL. After that, the distance and the splits were all messed up, so I was basically wearing a $300 stopwatch. Awesome.  Once E and I actually started running, we stopped talking—partly because I think we were both so in shock that we were running a marathon and partly because I think we were both trying to conserve every last bit of energy. Once we got to the Mile 1 marker, E stopped to run/walk and we wished each other luck and split up. I ended up seeing her in my peripheral vision a few more times in the first few miles but not again after that.

My mom and I had talked about where she might be: I thought she’d be at Mile 3 and then again at Mile 13, so as I got close to Mile 3, I started looking out for her. Emily had said she’d be at Mile 4 and 11, and I was excited about the possibility of spying one of my fave Tumblrs on a corner, but alas, I didn’t see her either.

I had vowed that I wouldn’t use my phone save for maybe an occasional photo, but after mile 4, I started texting my mom. If she flew all the way to Chicago to watch me run a marathon, I was going to make sure we saw each other. She’s not exactly the world’s best texter, but I finally figured out she was at Mile 12. I think I held onto my phone until after I saw her, just in case she moved. This was actually kind of amazing, as I saw Twitter notifications and texts coming in, and they kept me going.

After a while, I stopped looking for my mom because it was getting really distracting. I knew I’d see her at some point, so I just hoped I’d hear her. Since I was pretty sure she was at 12, that kept me running strong from Miles 7 to 12.

But before I could get to Mile 7…I had to stop to use a Porta Potty. I guess I’d drank too much water in preparation (really?!!!), because I had to pee REALLY badly by then. I was hoping I’d sweat it out, but I hadn’t.  From at least Mile 3 to the 10K (6.2 mile) mark, I was playing a mental game of “should I or shouldn’t I?” As I got to the Mile 7 aid station, I decided things weren’t going to get any better and it’d be worth whatever time it took. It ended up taking about 6 minutes, but I figured that I’d be able to run faster once my bladder was empty.

After that, I was a little nervous that I’d drink too much and have to pee again. My stomach was also sort of rumbly on-and-off until this point, so I was worried I’d have to stop…for that reason. Luckily, that one Porta Potty break was the only one I took. I ran 7-12 pretty strong, just hoping to see my mom. The spectators in Chicago were amazing, but there’s nothing like seeing *your own* spectator, especially when it’s your mom. I’d been scanning the crowd, but it was so packed at that point that I started hoping again just to hear her…AND I DID!!!! The best part of that course, other than the finish line, was hands-down, the big hug my mom gave me at Mile 12. 

The best part after that was the halfway point. I was so excited to see this that I took a picture of it and tweeted it! People had asked me before if I’d be tweeting during the race, and I laughed. It’s really hard to use your phone when your hands are sweaty. But I knew how many people were tracking me, and I knew that the tracking was off (I’d signed up to track my roomies), so I wanted to update y’all! 

Yeah, it’s blurry, but I was busy running a marathon! The time clock there says 2:52, but my time was 2:29 (you’re timed by when you cross the start, not when the gun goes off, luckily). Since my Garmin was off, I had no idea what pace that was, but knew that it was faster than my first half-marathon and that I was on pace to finish under 5:00. At that point, I felt great, so I was hoping for negative splits and that I’d actually make up some time…

Little did I know, it was about to get hotter. When I started the race it was about 65 degrees. When I finished, it was above 80 degrees. Since I’d trained all summer in the heat, I foolishly thought I’d be just fine. I remember telling E and Laurel that I wasn’t too worried about the potential heat. Around mile 14, I remember my mind starting to get a little fuzzy. I remember thinking “ok! At mile 15, I’m at single digits!” Well, 26-9=17, not 15, so I still had 2 miles to go to single digits.

At the beginning of the race, I’d alternated Gatorade and water at the stops, but after about mile 16, I started taking Gatorade at the beginning of the water stop and water at the end. I remember thinking, it’s getting hot. I don’t care if I’m going to have to pee again, I don’t want to pass out. I want to finish this damn race. 

Other than the bathroom break, I hadn’t stopped to walk at all until Mile 18. When I stopped to walk at Mile 18, I thought everything was going to fall apart. They refer to hitting “the wall” in a marathon, and I hit at mile 18. I didn’t think I’d be able to finish, and I stopped to stretch my calves on a curb. Leaning against a tree, I took deep, yoga-style breaths and started talking to myself “YOU CAN DO THIS!” I said. Right around this point, I also got an amazing text. My friend and former boss (and one of my fave people ever) Morgan had been tracking me and she texted me “You’re going strong! Great work!” She ran the Chicago Marathon herself in 2007, so her words meant a lot to me and really helped through this rough stretch on the course.

At this point, I made a mental pact with myself. I would just run to finish, not worry about time. I’d run when I could and walk when I had to. Miles 18-20 were pretty rough. It took every bit of mental courage I had left at that point. I’ve heard most runners hit their wall at Mile 20, but I summoned up some last bits of strength to finish up my first marathon. 

At Mile 20, I was excited that I’d be running further than I’d ever run before. (The most I ran in training was 20). Once I’d passed the 20 mile marker, I was psyched. Just a 10K! I’ve run further than I’ve ever run before! And further than most people will ever run!) I thought I’d see my coworker-in-another-office Jen at mile 22.5, so I remember wanting to look strong when I ran past her. Sadly, I never saw her either, but aside from a stretch in MIle 21 through Chinatown (which was really cool!) where I stopped to walk out some stomach pain, I ran 20-22.5 relatively strongly, considering the heat.

Once I passed 22.5 and was coming up on 23 and not going to see Jen, I started walking a bit. I knew I wanted to run as much of 23-26.2 as possible. I haven’t looked at my splits on my Garmin yet because I’m mad at him, but I remember running a decent amount. My goal pace was anything under an 11:00 mile, and I remember hovering right around an 11:05 minute mile at this point. It was slower than I wanted, but at this point, the heat advisory level was at red, so I just kept reminding myself to be careful. 

I remember passing Mile 25 and my watch saying something around 4:47/8. I knew I’d missed my first two goals, but 5:00 was still in reach. I told myself to run as much as possible, but it was okay to take a little walk break if I had to. I remember passing a sign that said “one mile left” and thinking I CAN DO THIS. I’M ABOUT TO FINISH A MARATHON!!!! I almost started crying. I know I was definitely smiling.

At this point, the roar of the crowd was deafening. Earlier on when I was hurting, this actually pissed me off a little bit. I wanted to tell them all to leave me alone. I could have pulled out my headphones, but that required far more coordination and energy than I had at that point. But at mile 25, I was SO HAPPY to hear the roar of the crowd. Hearing that took me through to the end. At the 26 mile marker, I was screaming inside I’M ABOUT TO FINISH MY FIRST MARATHON!! I DID IT! The course went uphill for a bit (seriously?? WTF? Not cool, Chicago Marathon), but I remember thinking “what goes up must come down,” and that as long as I stayed strong over the hill, I’d make it through.

My watch said 4:57ish at 26, and I started doing mental calculations. “If I run a 10:00 mile, I can do .2 miles in 2 minutes, and finish under 5:00.” A 10:00 mile is usually pretty easy for me, but I’m not usually running a marathon. In 80+ degree heat. Still, I pulled out the little I had left to propel me to the finish line. I remember seeing people in front of me motioning for the crowds to scream louder, and grinning like an idiot, I did the same.

When the finish line came into view, I wanted to jump and down. But I figured that I’d get run over and not finish under 5:00, so I put EVERYTHING I HAD left into that last stretch.


And became a marathoner!!! I know it’s cliche, but so many emotions and thoughts washed over me as I crossed: relief, excitement, exhilaration, panic (would I pass out?), pride, nostalgia (thinking of the me who never thought she could do this), loneliness.

I was okay for most of the race with running alone—it meant I got to run at my own pace, for better or worse—but all I wanted on the other side of the finish line was a familiar face to hug or high-five. Instead, I got my mylar cape (it was too hot to wear, but I wanted it for a keepsake), banana, bagel…and beer. Goose Island had a beer truck just past the finish, and I grabbed an ice-cold 312. I’d seen signs during the race saying “Will run for beer” or “4 miles till beer,” and it was all I could think of. I had about three sips, and threw it out. It tasted like your dad’s beer tastes when you’re 10 years old and try a sip of it—NASTY. I was so disappointed. 

In some ways, the marathon was harder than I’d expected. Most of my training runs were great, so I didn’t realize how much deeper inside myself I’d have to dig to finish. (I also didn’t realize how hot it’d be.) It was also easier than I expected: I didn’t pass out, I don’t feel like I walked *too* much, and I’m no more sore right now than I’ve been after a hard long run.

Official finish: 4:59:22


Will I do it again?


New York 2011.

(Two more NYRR races to run and 1 to volunteer at, and I’m in.) 

16 comments on “Chicago Marathon: I Was Born to Run 10-10-10

  1. Camels & Chocolate

    I just read this again from your linkback and couldn’t help but be pissed for you that your Garmin also failed you! WTF? I think the *only* time mine worked without dropping reception was my San Francisco marathon. But yet, $300 stopwatch indeed.

  2. Katie

    Hey Theodora!
    Ive seen your name pop up in the blogging world a lot over the last few months…
    I just read this recap of yours for the first time and found it SO inspirational. I am training for my very first marathon, which I’m running in November. I’m scared TO PIECES but stories like yours help me get out of bed and run every morning!

  3. Ashley Jackson

    Oh man. Reading your story made me cry! I am training for my first marathon right now and am also in the process of wanting to lose 50 lbs. This was amazingly encouraging! Thanks for sharing this:)

  4. Katie H.

    I really enjoyed reading this! I am about to start training for my first full. I’ve done 4 halves (will be 6 by the time I actually run the full), and feel ready to tackle the longer distance.

  5. Valerie

    If you keep getting random hits on this post, it’s me. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read it since registering for the Disney Marathon. 🙂

  6. Robin

    I have done several bridge runs but never a marathon. Running across the Greater New Orleans Bridge was a lot of fun. You meet so many interesting people and make new friends. I hope to get back to running again after an operation on my foot 6 months ago. I’m 57 and still have some years left to get in shape to do more running and being around so many interesting people.

  7. rut ham cau gia re

    I had vowed that I wouldn’t use my phone save for maybe an occasional photo, but after mile 4, I started texting my mom. If she flew all the way to Chicago to watch me run a marathon, I was going to make sure we saw each other. She’s not exactly the world’s best texter, but I finally figured out she was at Mile 12. I think I held onto my phone until after I saw her, just in case she moved. This was actually kind of amazing, as I saw Twitter notifications and texts coming in, and they kept me going.

  8. emaildoanhnghiep

    atherine has lots of stories to share. I agree about her success combining both her personal and corporate branding. You really get a sense of who Katherine is and what she can do for your branding and content marketing by her own branding and content.
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