Friday, October 14, 2011

Chicago Marathon Race Report October 2011

It’s been 18 years since I moved from Chicago but two things are still as true as they were the day I left:  the Golden Nugget is still serving pancakes 24 hours a day on Clark Street and it’s not the heat that kills you, it’s the humidity.

I was really excited to go back to Chicago to do my hometown marathon for the first time.  I remember years ago when I lived there I was trying to go to work one Sunday and couldn’t get there because the streets were closed for the marathon.  Sitting there in my car, weighing about 300 pounds, I was absolutely livid that they’d close the streets and inconvenience me for a bunch of “damn runners”.  If you’d told me then I’d be back almost 20 years later, 100 pounds lighter, and excited to join the “damn runners” I would have thought you were crazy.

I arrived in Chicago Friday night and immediately started eating all the foods I can’t get in Portland, starting with real pizza.  Mmmm,  Chicago pizza.  The next morning I had a breakfast skillet about twice the size of my head and we headed downtown for the Expo.  (Note to newbies: eating huge quantities of fatty food the day before a marathon is not actually your best plan).

The Chicago Marathon Expo is HUGE.  I was a little star struck as I saw people like Hal Higdon and Scott Jurek wondering around.  My brother George & I got our race packets, snagged some samples and headed over to the pasta dinner.  I’m not huge on the pasta dinner, especially when it’s the overpriced event dinner, but George wanted to check it out so I went along.  Had a mediocre dinner and went back to the hotel to get ready for our big adventure the next day.   As I started laying my clothes out for the race George asked me what I was doing.  “I’m making my flat Rose”, I told him.  “I’d better get started making my Flat Awesome then,” he replied.  No shortage of self-esteem in that kid.

After a typically restless pre-race sleep George & I were up early to get down to the start.  We walked about 1.5-2 miles to the start and I noted that I was already sweating from the humidity.  Bad sign. After several trips to the port-a-potties and some nice chats with a newbie and a really sweet fellow maniac, we were ready to roll. 

Chicago is by far the largest race I’ve ever done, with 45,000 people registered.  It took us about 35 minutes to get across the start but the energy and music made the time pass quickly.  As we approached the start line they started playing “My Kind of Town” and I sang along happily.  We shuffled across the start but it was probably a good quarter to half mile before we could start to run due to the crowd.  I took off at an easy pace. A variety of factors have contributed to my current speed being the slowest it has ever been since I started racing and I knew the heat and humidity wasn’t going to help me either so I resolved to just have fun and enjoy my foot tour of my hometown.

In his usual fashion George had done absolutely no training for the marathon and in fact had never run more than 16 miles, and that was when he was swept during last year’s marathon.  Like me he’s overweight and lacking any natural athletic talent so we both knew going in that it was highly unlikely he’d actually finish the race.  We’d decided that we’d start together and I’d drop him when he needed to slow down.  It didn’t take long. About a mile into the race we went under an overpass where a long line of guys were peeing on the wall (so rude to pee when the girls can’t!) and George said,  “Hey I’ve gotta take a leak, I’ll catch up with you.”   I laughed because I knew between my being faster and the crowds I’d never see him again.  And I never did.  He did actually get close to mile 21 before he got swept from the course so I was very impressed that he got that far.

After I dropped George I looked around and realized I was right in the 5:30 pace group.  Not my best racing strategy but for the hell of it I decided to see how long I could keep up with them since a 12:35 pace is blazing fast for me right now.  I hung on with them for 30 minutes before I cracked and I was pleased with that effort.  Then I started the gradual slow down that would last for the remainder of the race.  I alternated running and walking and later downshifted to  shuffling and walking.  I didn’t listen to any music, just enjoyed the sights and the energy of the crowd.

This race was a bit of memory lane for me…..going past Rush Street where I went to get drunk on free drinks when I turned 21…going past the Golden Nugget where you could find me eating pancakes any weekend during my 20s after the bars closed…passing restaurants and shops that I was surprised were still there…going through Chinatown and Greek town…passing White Sox park…staring at the Sears Tower which oddly enough seemed to be visible no matter where you were on the course, regardless of the direction you were going, yet it never got closer.  I also thought fondly of all the friends I’ve lost touch with over the years, or maybe only know on Facebook now, and the good times we had in the 80s and early 90s.

It seemed wherever I went on the course I was reminded of my life in Portland too….I passed a sign that said “Some day you won’t be able to do this, today is NOT that day” and thought of my friend Seth who had to retire from running…I passed a few people handing out donuts and thought of my Krispy Kreme-obsessed friend Esther…Greektown reminded me of Betty, etc.  I also thought of all my fellow chicks running the Portland marathon at the same time, especially Lynn and Liz and Amy, and focused on sending them good vibes for their own races.

I tried to talk to a few runners on the course and when several of them acted like I was crazy (and one was openly hostile to me) I was reminded of a conversation I had with my friend Andleeb about how much friendlier runners are in the northwest.  I did have a great time finally meeting fellow Maniac Dave Mari and talking to another guy who was using the race to qualify for Maniacs.

Over my summer of relays I’d made a conscious decision to focus on shorter faster runs and I started to really feel the combination of lack of endurance work and heat/humidity around mile 18.  I spent a couple miles feeling like death before I passed a handsome young man passing out beer to the runners.  “You have beer?!??”  I said in excitement.  The young hottie gave me a Miller Lite and I said gratefully,  “I LOVE YOU!”   He smiled and said,  “Well have the whole can then!”  I declined that offer, fearing my already wonky stomach would completely rebel, but that beer really perked me up.  Like Popeye’s spinach the beer gave me the boost I needed to get through the race.

I was pleasantly surprised at the crowd support at this race.  Seemed like on nearly every block there were cheering spectators, people passing out water or food or beer or jello shots (seriously) or people sprinkling you with garden hoses to cool you off.  It was awesome.  And did I mention the hottie with the beer?

As generally happens for me I had a nice spurt of energy right at the end so I could put in a nice kick at the end.  I cruised across the finish line hot, chafed, sunburned, tired but really really happy.  Later I heard that a young fit runner had died right before the finish line and I was doubly grateful that I’m healthy enough to do marathons, regardless of speed, and most of all I’m grateful that I can enjoy them.

After the race I decided I was too wiped to walk back to the hotel so I wandered a few blocks away where my chances of getting a cab would be better.  After a few minutes an open cab came by and I saw that another runner and I had both waved to it at the same time.  I sprinted to that cab and snatched it, much to the dismay of the other runner.  Noting to myself that this was by far the fastest I’d moved all day I said to the disgruntled woman, “You’ve gotta be faster if you want a cab around here!”.  Just goes to prove that you can take the girl out of Chicago but you can’t take Chicago out of the girl.