I could not have asked for a more perfect race. Has anyone else had one of those? Where everything aligns perfectly and your body cooperates (for the most part)? It's absolutely amazing. I'm so happy and satisfied with this race.
Ricky and I got into town Friday evening. I didn't want to have too much time before the race like I did in Vancouver because then I just get worn out trying to sightsee. Kim was staying at the same hotel we were so once we checked into the hotel we met up with her and Mitch for a quick dinner before bed.
Normally, I might do a shakeout run the day before the race, but after a massage on both Wednesday and Thursday, I wanted to keep my muscles loose. I've had some bad build up in my quads and the massages helped release some of this, so I wanted to keep it that way. Saturday was all about the expo, and it was a good one. Nike is the official sponsor of the race, so they had a huge booth with the dopest clothes. Sigh. I wanted to buy everything, but both Kim and I decided on this full zip jacket. I freaking love it. I bought a tank from a local clothing company and a shirt from the Goose Island booth that had a marathon print. I've never bought so much stuff at an expo, but it was so mesmerizing so I ended up giving in. We also stopped my the Moji booth. They specialize in recovery tools that you can use at room temperature or you can freeze and use cold. I picked up the Moji Curve PRO and the Moji Foot PRO for recovery after my race. They are awesome! I used the Curve PRO the night before the race just to make sure my legs were as loose as possible and it felt so good! I definitely recommend checking out Moji for recovery tools.
We spent almost 3 hours at the expo, so we were ready for lunch after that. I made sure to primarily get fats and carbs into my system, so lunch was a delicious avocado toast from the Goddess and Baker. We went to the Bean after lunch, but there were so many people that it wasn't worth it to try to get any photos. We all were ready to chill, and Kim and I needed to rest our legs, so we went back to the hotel for the afternoon. After a few hours, we went to dinner at this place called Pizano's. Kim and I just wanted simple spaghetti with marinara and this place had great reviews. We ended up waiting an hour for a table and then our food took another hour. By the time we ate it was after 8 pm, which would normally cause anxiety, but honestly, I felt a bit removed from any prerace rituals. I was doing everything differently, so it wasn't like I could count on any of it making a difference.
Once we scarfed down our food and made it back to the hotel, I got all my race gear together. I decided to take 4 gels with me. Normally I only take 3 (mile 6, 12, and 18). I also took a few different ones - I read in a Runner's World article that it's good to get different kinds of sugar (glucose + fructose) during a run to help with absorption. I packed 2 Glukos gels (which have glucose... is that obvious?), 1 Powerbar Simple Fruit (2:1 ratio of glucose and fructose), and 1 Honey Stinger. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about the Honey Stinger. Both the Glukos and Powergel were much more liquidy than the thick Honey Stinger, but if I needed it, I wanted to have it with me.
We went to sleep around 10, and I have never gotten such good sleep before a race. No nightmares of missing my alarm or not making it into my corral before it closed, just solid sleep. When I got up, I immediately started taking my electrolyte pills with water and eating my bagel and banana. Prior to this day, my normal pre race fuel would be a pack of Honey Stinger Chews and an apple. Switching it up! I kept trying to poo, but nothing was working and it was time for Kim and I to walk to the start line. I put on my $2 poncho and a cheap $5 blanket we'd both bought the night before and we walked out.
The walk down was a little chilly, but the weather was absolutely perfect. We were about a 15 minute walk from our entrance gate. When we got there, we scoped everything out - found the gear check for Kim and also stumbled upon these porto potties that were not being used by ANYONE! SCORE! We hung out in front of these for a while, doing our business multiple times. Finally it was almost 7 am, so we walked up to gear check to drop Kim's bag. We went back to our porto potties and now they were swarming with people. We decided to make our way to our corrals and hit a porto potty inside. We said our goodbyes since I was in Corral B and Kim was in Corral C, and went our separate ways.
The lines at the porto potties inside the corrals were insane, but I had to go or I would not make it through the race. I waited and it was still 7:25 when I got inside, but the entrance to the actual Corral was bottle necking and no one was else was getting inside. I could see people jumping the fence and the 3:20 pacers were ahead of the entrance, so I had to jump the fence too. One of the race organizers got annoyed, but I had to get in my pace group! I found the pacers - we had 3. One was an older gentleman, around 50, which was very impressive because that meant he could run a 3:00 marathon. Another guy who barely talked, but was the most consistent of all of them. The final pacer was this tall, loud, almost on the verge of obnoxious young guy wearing bunny ears. Yes... he was my pacer. I asked them if the GPS would work, and they said to start the watch to at least get your overall time, because the GPS was definitely not going to work. We run straight into a tunnel right after the start, so the GPS goes off. I knew the only way I was going to get this 3:20, was by staying with these guys.
Once we started running, the taller guy in our group kept chatting away. He was interacting with the crowds and getting people pumped. I needed to take a gel early on. I could tell I needed a boost, so at mile 3.5, I took my first Glukos and followed it up with water. It went down easy enough. Finally at mile 5, I was too distracted by my bunny ear pacer and I put my headphones in. I was trying to hold out until mile 20! It was weird to be racing with music for the first few miles, but eventually, it kept me focused and in my own space among the thousands of people running with me.
Even though I peed right before the start, I was conciously taking water at every other station (and there were tons of aid stations - every mile and a half or less). I ended up thinking about the porto potties around mile 8. Every time we passed a set of them, it wasn't a good chance to break through the crowd. Finally I saw a sign well in advance of the station and made my way out of the middle of the course. I ran inside the first one I found open and I couldn't pee for a whole 3 seconds! It was like I didn't have to go! Finally I peed and right as I came out, the bunny eared pacer who was bringing up the rear of the pace group passed by. I didn't have to overexert myself at all and just fell in next to him. Then I took my second gel, the Powerbar gel. It went down easy and tasted like applesauce. I was very relieved no gut issues so far!
Ricky and Mitch said they would be on the left side of the course at mile 12 to get a picture before returning to the finish line to find a spot. I ditched my arm warmers around mile 4 and they were swinging around in my belt. I looked like crazy for him, ready to toss my arm warmers at him. While he saw me and got plenty of pics of me, I never saw him! I was bummed, but I just threw the warmers back in my belt and forgot about them for the rest of the race.
We made our way west to the second part of the race. I checked my watch and we were just under 1:40 at the half mark. Perfect. Around mile 16, I took my last Glukos gel. Another easy take. No issues. I made sure to start taking in Gatorade as well. Even though I wasn't sweating a ton, I knew there was a chance I'd start cramping late in the race. At this point I had broken ahead of the pace group a bit, but I just tried to focus on my breathing and ensure that I wasn't going too fast. Around mile 20, I fell in line behind these 2 girls who were keeping about the same pace as me. I decided to stick behind them to pace myself. We came up on the final gel station at mile 21. I didn't want to take my Honey Stinger and potentially gag or ruin the good fueling I'd done so far. I grabbed the first gel at the station and it was Vanilla. Yuck. The next one I grabbed was blueberry so I threw the vanilla one back at a volunteer - I didn't want to waste it! As I was about to open it, I saw the last set of volunteers had the same Powerbar gel I'd taken earlier. I snagged it and took it right away. Another easy one to go down and that was it. The final 5 miles.
We were finally making our way back to the city and I could see Willis Tower, the focal point of the race course. We were turning a corner at mile 23 and my right foot started to cramp on the arch. I told myself to focus on moving forward and that I was almost done. Then my lower left shin started to cramp. Nope. I pushed the pain out of my mind. I repeated that I was going to get this 3:20. For a brief moment in here, I thought, I could slow down a bit and still get a PR. The pain is too much for me to bear. And then I thought. WTF, JESSICA!!!!!!! No. You are getting this 3:20. You've dreamed about it and you're going to get it.
One of the pacers had pushed past me around mile 24 and I couldn't ever catch him, but the bunny eared pacer was close by because I could still hear him yelling to the pace group that we were 20 seconds under. I kept telling myself to stay right in front of him. We made it to mile 25 - you can do this for 1 more mile, Jessica. That's it. And then you get to eat all of the ice cream you want. And you can have some wine. This is legitimately what I am saying to myself to keep pushing through the desire to stop. I can see the right turn to mile 26 that I know is followed by a sharp left into the finish. Just get there and it will be done. The bunny eared pacer started to get in front of me. We turned the corner into the BIGGEST HILL on the course that day. Yes, at mile 26. I turned the corner again and saw the finish and gave it all I had left.
Immediately after crossing the finish I turned off my watch and saw a 3:20:02. Relief, followed by a what if... a 3:19 was so close. But I immediately started to tear up. I knew I wouldn't see Ricky for a long time because the shoot is so far to go through before you can connect with family. I turned to my left and saw the oldest of the pacers next to me and thanked him. Then I saw the bunny eared man and thanked him and he lifted me into a hug and congratulated me. The best. If you've never run with a pace group, try it. They are the most amazing people who truly help push you through that shit.
My legs felt like they were going to cramp and my belly was unsettled so I pulled off to the fence on the left and bent down. A volunteer, Kim, came over and asked if I was ok. I told her I had cramping and thought I might puke. She offered to walk me to the medical tent. I asked her if we could just sit down for a bit so I could see if my friend was going to come through and she said yes. She brought me water and Gatorade and stretched my calves for me. She let me call Ricky and stayed with me in the finish meet up area until I found him! She was the sweetest, most amazing volunteer ever!!!!! The volunteers ARE AMAZING!
I finally found Ricky and Mitch - Mitch went to get Kim. Kim did a 3:31! 4 weeks after running Big Cottonwood and getting a 3:16! She's a beast! We were just pure joy and excitement. After drinking our post race Goose Island beers, we made the mile long walk back to our hotel.
Final thoughts on this race. I am so happy and proud of myself for finally getting the goal I've had trouble reaching for 10 months. I'm grateful for this running community and the constant support and inspiration I receive from it. I think about the well wishes and comments that people send me all the time when I'm running and it seriously fuels me so much. Last, I know I have more. I thought I would be done after this. Well, that I'd run Boston as my last marathon and then focus on shorter distances. But I have more. I felt so good on Sunday, I know I can be faster. I want to get there.
All the feels,