hills

Minnesota

Heading into the Half Marathon at Grandma’s Marathon, I expected some pretty big things. I knew my fitness was there, and definitely the best it’s ever been for endurance running. I knew the course was relatively flat and quite fast. I knew the weather (because of my OCD checking of it) was going to be pretty ideal for PR racing conditions. But race day can always bring the unexpected… and when the unexpected happens you have some decisions to make.

Heading to the beach!

Heading to the beach!

My husband, son and I headed to Duluth on Thursday. We left Omaha in the morning with a short flight to Minneapolis, knowing we had a bit of a drive after to get to Duluth. The drive was timed well with nap time, something parents know they need to plan out to have a happy kid on the trip!

I wanted to go to the expo and the famous Grandma’s Grill and Saloon restaurant before too many other runners got into town. With the expo opening at four, we went to the beach and park to kill some time because toddlers… Gotta keep them busy! Parker and I may have gotten soaked by this wave! We both laughed it off, but the water felt good!

Waves of Lake Superior… coming in hot!

Waves of Lake Superior… coming in hot!

Bib acquired!

Bib acquired!

We arrived at the expo just after it opened and it was already pretty busy! Parker wasn’t really having it, so we didn’t do much exploring of the vendors. I definitely could have spent some time (and money…) there as there were a ton of vendors! We grabbed a few free samples, my bib and headed to the Saloon and Grill for an early dinner. Turns out we all decided to carb load with some pasta meals, even though I was the only one doing the racing over the weekend!

Found my name.

Found my name.

Parker was into the “saloon and grill” theme.

Parker was into the “saloon and grill” theme.

Friday morning I headed out to a nice trail across the street from our hotel (we stayed in Superior, Wisconsin… just outside of Duluth. Prices were a little bit cheaper and we figured it’s sometimes nice to be a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the race weekend.) I ran out to the end of Barker’s Island and back to our hotel for drills and strides. What a beautiful day for a run!

Shake out run, done!

Shake out run, done!

King of the Bananas at the Children’s Museum!

King of the Bananas at the Children’s Museum!

Post run, shower and breakfast we went to the Duluth Children’s Museum. Our sight seeing on trips has changed a little bit, but it’s so fun to see Parker having fun on vacations as well. Lunch was the usual burger, and a friend recommended trying out 7West. It was yummy! Friday afternoon the McKirdy crew was getting together for a meet and greet, chat and questionnaire. It was so fun to meet other McKirdy Trained athletes, hear about their running histories and goals for the race! James and Heather gave some great racing advice as well! Friday evening we had our usual pre-race pizza dinner and then settled into our hotel for the rest of the evening. Legs up the wall, lay out all the supplies, and SLEEP! It would be an early alarm Saturday!

Race ready! I’ll be sporting my #TeamMartilee tank, Sparkle Athletic Unicorn Shorts, Procompression socks, Spring Energy Gels, Brooks running hat and New Balance 1500s. Let’s go!

Race ready! I’ll be sporting my #TeamMartilee tank, Sparkle Athletic Unicorn Shorts, Procompression socks, Spring Energy Gels, Brooks running hat and New Balance 1500s. Let’s go!

As I said… early alarm! It went off at 3:45… and I jumped right out of bed! I was excited to get up and get going for the day. I had a pretty good feeling that the day would turn out well if I just focused on my goals.

Always got my Race Day Braids going on!

Always got my Race Day Braids going on!

I got dressed, put on my extra layers (thanks for the good prices, Goodwill!) and headed down to the hotel lobby for breakfast. They opened up the breakfast two hours early for all the runners. So thankful for that! I chowed down on some oatmeal, orange juice, and a banana. I took a water bottle and granola bar to eat on the bus to the start line as well, because the race wouldn’t start for another two hours yet!

The shuttle buses were leaving from the hotel across the street, so I headed over to wait. There were a ton of runners waiting around for the 4:30 shuttle to arrive. Next thing we know it’s 4:35… no buses. Then 4:40… still no buses! At 4:42 one of the drivers arrived and told us we were all in the wrong spot, and needed to head across the street to Perkins, where the buses were leaving from. Everything in our newsletters and online (I checked last night!) said we were leaving from the Holiday Inn… so I guess the bus drivers were all wrong? Or the website? Regardless, we were on the buses and on our way to the start line, just a few minutes later than originally planned!

Beautiful morning at the start line as the sun was coming up.

Beautiful morning at the start line as the sun was coming up.

Good morning, Moon.

Good morning, Moon.

The ride was pretty quick and the sunrise was beautiful! Once we arrived, a friend and I headed towards the bag drop. Once close, I took off on my 15 minute warm-up jog. It was slow and crowded and I did a lot of loops back and forth on the road where all the runners were walking up to get to the bag drop and start line. Once I was back, I did my drills as my friend took off on his warmup jog (we watched each others bags during that time). Once done with that, we dropped off our bags, hit the port-o-potties one last time and headed towards the start line. We were in a little bit of a panic mode here… thinking these were the last of the last of the portopotties and it was so crowded! If hindsight were 20/20 we should have kept going a little further. WAY more potties closer to the start line, WAY less people, WAY more room to run and do drills and strides. So… if you’re doing the half at Grandma’s next year… KEEP GOING FORWARD. The grass really is greener on the other side. (Or the port-o-potties really are cleaner…?)

Race Map provided by Grandma’s Marathon website.

Race Map provided by Grandma’s Marathon website.

I found some other Instagram friends near the start line (at the 7 minute pace signs) and it was so great to meet in real life! I took my first Spring Gel (Speednut, which is 250 calories!) with about 10-15 minutes until the start time. They announced 5 minutes to go, so I stripped off my extra layers (but kept the sleeves over my arms from my jacket,) and kept sipping my water. We scooted closer to the start line again (at this point hanging out by the 6 minute pace signs)… there really was way more space than necessary. I’ve never been at a start line where everyone was so spread out. At this point we were probably still 50 yards away, thinking they’d announce with 1 or 2 minutes to go and we’d scoot even closer. But then the gun just went off! There were no extra announcements after 5 minutes left til the start! So many of us were taken by surprise… we thought it was a mistake until we saw those in front of us running! So we jogged to the start and BOOM, started our watches and we were off!

Feeling good and smiling a few miles in! Let’s go!

Feeling good and smiling a few miles in! Let’s go!

My coach gave me some race plans in advance and I felt comfortable with them. She said she’d like me to start the first 5k about 7:05-7:10 pace (my PR half marathon average is 7:06… so right on that!). Two minutes into we passed a few banks with the time of 6:15 am. So maybe we started two minutes early? Also, we had such a clear day that we could see the finish line at this point in time. I remember chatting with my friend… asking if he saw that bridge in the distance, and telling him we get to run right up to it! He was not thrilled with this announcement!

The first few miles ticked by and I was feeling great! They were 7:04, 7:04, 7:04. Whoa! Talk about control. I was surprised by a few small rollers here. My coach had alerted me to them beforehand, saying that while the elevation map does in fact look like it’s flat until about 4 miles to go, that there were a few small rollers. She gave me the advice of not looking at my pace while going up, to stay relaxed and not push. I checked my pace at the crest of every hill to see my pace a few seconds slower than goal (about 7:09-7:10) but by the bottom of each hill I’d be right back on that goal pace, closer to 7:05. Perfect! I grabbed the Powerade whenever I had the chance, so right about mile two in this section.

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My second 5k my coach said to shoot for closer to 7:00-7:05 average. Just slightly quicker, and shooting for that new PR. These miles were 7:03, 7:03, 6:55 (decent descent on the 6th mile). Somewhere in the 4th mile I felt my stomach to start to… gurgle. It felt a little off earlier in the morning but I was hoping it was race day jitters and I’d “get it all out” at the hotel and after my warm-up jog. That’s what usually happens… but I guess not quite today. Nothing to be concerned about yet. More Powerade when the option came up. Around my 5th mile I also took my Spring Energy gel. It went down easy! I love the canaberry (strawberry) flavor and how easily I can take these gels compared to others.

My coach said once hitting half way, to shoot for 6:55-7:05 range. Still in the PR pace, but slightly bigger range as there’s still some rollers. Time to turn on the engines! Except, that gurgling was increasing some. Nothing to be worried about, yet. I told myself keep running and pushing hard until it becomes an emergency. So I kept running and pushing the pace until my stomach was all I could focus on. Mile 7 was 7:09 average. Nothing to be worried about, because there was a decent amount of climbing after the last mile of descent. But then the 8th mile was right about 7:10 pace too, and the course had flattened out. I could tell that I was losing focus on the race and pushing my pace because I was concerned about my stomach. By 7.5 miles I knew I’d have to stop, or I’d keep slowing down and maybe become the next running meme (and ain’t nobody got time for embarrassing internet pictures being shared because all runners talk about poop.) So I made the decision to pull over at the next potty stop. That happened to be 7.8 miles. Try as I might to have an epic 10 second poop stop like Shalane Flanagan… that’s not how it worked out. I needed to make sure I took care of all of it. I didn’t stop my watch, and I didn’t look at exactly when I got in and out, but I’d guess it took me almost two full minutes. Time goes by REALLY quickly in the bathrooms. Like at warp-speed!

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On my watch, the 8th mile clicked by in 8:58. I had a decision to make. I knew I wouldn’t PR now unless something magical happened. I could just run easy to the finish, enjoy the beautiful course and great weather day the Race Gods gave us… or I could fight for every single second of that two minutes I lost in the bathroom. Recently Gabe Grunewald, a professional runner for Brooks and Minnesotan native passed away. One of her quotes was “It’s okay to struggle. It’s not okay to give up.” I remembered this quote as I exited the bathroom and decided to fight. This was a struggle, and minor one at that, but it won’t beat me. It won’t make me give up. About a quarter mile later a fan was holding a sign with this very quote. I took it as a confirmation of my decision to fight. My ninth mile was back on pace, at 6:58.

I had a chance at something here. Again, probably not a PR. But I had a chance to finish strong. To use my training and current fitness level to do something I’ve never done before. To not give up on myself. To not go into a “dark spot” that so many get into during a race. I zeroed in on my plan and went for it. Mile 10 was 7:00… with a good amount of uphill. Mile 11 7:00 flat, with a good amount of curves and winding roads, trying to keep tight on the tangents. Mile 12, 6:44, even with having to hurdle a poor lost pigeon who doesn’t understand that it needs to get out of the way when runners are coming (yes I did also scream). I was feeling strong. I was a force to be reckoned with into the finish.

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Mile 13 we ran almost directly into the wind we had at our backs for the previous 12 miles. All the sudden it’s slammed into your face as we are shoved into a much smaller road than we had the entire rest of the race. The 13th mile feels long. Here we do a bit of a circle, having already ran past the finish line. We have a lot of turns, and zig-zagging. My 13th mile was another 6:44. I knew I was close to the finish line, that I ran the tangents pretty well. I pushed, with everything I had, fighting for every lost second. My last 200 meters into the finish line was at 6:16 pace. This is the fastest and strongest I’ve ever finished a half marathon.

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I’ve never had my last 5k be the fastest in any race, until today. I’ve never ran so very consistently (minus the poop mile) until today. I’ve never executed a race plan, nutrition plan as well as I did today. No, I didn’t PR. I was 47 seconds shy of my PR, finishing in 1:33:44. But I could have been two full minutes shy of my PR. I fought and pushed hard for that extra 107 seconds that I earned in the last 5 miles. I passed 11 people and was passed by zero in the last mile of the race. I never gave up. There are WAY more positives in this non-PR race than I’ve ever had in any race I’ve set a PR. Of that, I am proud.

Official race stats.

Official race stats.

You can easily see where I had my stop…

You can easily see where I had my stop…

I finished in 1:33:44, as the 70th female out of 4,613 and 301st out of 7,480 runners overall. My 21st state and 26th half marathon are over. Grandma’s race weekend was magical. I’d truly suggest you run in Duluth and feel the magic of this race. This is a beautifully scenic course, in a very hospitable city. Even though I didn’t get a shiny new PR, it’s definitely one of my favorite races I’ve completed to date. Not sure what’s next, besides New York City Marathon this fall… Hopefully another half marathon before the big apple, but nothing as of right now!

Finish line smiles!

Finish line smiles!

To get back to race archives, click here.

BOSTON, BABY!

I remember where I was when they announced there was a bombing at the Boston Marathon in 2013. I had just finished my first half marathon two days before, on Saturday, in Kansas on the way home to my bridal shower. On Patriot’s Day, during the race, I was in my grandpa’s truck with my mom. He was driving us back to Kansas City for me to catch my flight back to Milwaukee. I had just really found my passion for distance running and I remember sitting in the back of his truck… crying. That’s when I decided I’d run a marathon. That’s when I decided I wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I’m sure many others have similar stories about finding out about the bombing and how that motivated them to run, become a marathoner or shoot for a BQ.

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Fast forward a few years, a few more races to fall of 2016 when I ran the Chicago Marathon a month after finishing my first Ironman. I pr’d my marathon by 36 minutes and qualified for Boston 2018 by 3 minutes and 55 seconds. I was SURE that window was large enough to get me into Boston… no doubt in my mind! Then it was announced the window was the largest ever at 3 minutes and 25 seconds. Thirty seconds was all that stood between me and NOT going to Boston… yikes! I was a squeaker!

But I made it!

Insert Team Sparkle. I’ve ran multiple Ragnar SoCal’s with the ladies of Sparkle Athletic and a few other sparkly, fast friends every year since 2015. The awesome thing is 5 of us qualified to run at Boston this year! Team Sparkle is heading to Boston instead of Ragnar SoCal to raise money and awareness for Rett Syndrome. We added two members to our usual 5, so that 7 of us will each run for 27 (because the .2!) little girls or boys suffering from Rett Syndrome. We run for a non-profit charity called Girl Power 2 Cure.

Boston gear and compression socks… gotta fly in style!

Boston gear and compression socks… gotta fly in style!

My family flew to Boston the Friday before the race. You guys… there were so many Boston jackets, BQ shirts, etc on this flight. So inspiring! I couldn’t believe I was one of them! My entire goal for Boston was just to get to the start line healthy and able to run the entire race. My son was now just over 7 months old, so I knew I wouldn’t be breaking any course records here.

My in-laws were also flying in that day. So we hung around the area a little while until they landed. Then went to the hotel to drop our things and get Parker down for a nap, and I headed back to the expo. I wanted to go right away so I’d be able to relax and miss the biggest wave of crowds.

This expo was massive, but also SUPER crowded. I’m really glad we didn’t try to bring everyone and Parker’s stroller. There’s no way it would have been manageable for us to stick together. Saturday we visited the finish line, and went to a Red Sox game. It was COLD you guys!

Still haven’t crossed that finish line… Monday!

Still haven’t crossed that finish line… Monday!

Sunday morning Team Sparkle had brunch together, then we visited the finish line again as a team. By the way, it was snowing Sunday when we were at the finish line. We ended up on the same corner as a few of the professional men. I forget who, but one of us was saying how cold it was (Elise?) and the pros looked at us and said it was perfect running weather! Then one of them stopped smiling and shook his head slowly as if to say “Just kidding! This sucks!” We had a good laugh about it!

Jumping pictures!

Jumping pictures!

From the back!

From the back!

We then went to the airport to pick up my parents, found dinner, and relaxed for the rest of the evening. The weather for Monday looked like it would be the worst weather in the history of the Boston Marathon. High of about 35 degrees, rain all day, and a headwind with gusts up to 30 mph. All day long. Luckily Team Sparkle had us covered with ponchos, medical gloves, hand/ foot warmers, and trash bags. I had also gone to a thrift store earlier in the week and purchased about $8 worth of clothes to wear. If I decided to take any off at the finish line or along the course, the clothing gets donated right back.

Our race outfit was going to be so hidden…

Our race outfit was going to be so hidden…

Race morning dawned just as nasty as they projected. Cold. Wet. Windy. I put on my throwaway socks and shoes, capris, sparkle skirt, long sleeve, arm sleeves, tank top, fleece hoodie, sweat pants, buff, gloves, hat, and medical gloves. I tied trash bags over my throwaway shoes, up around my ankles. I put on my poncho and carried my race shoes and socks and nutrition bag under the poncho with me to keep them as dry as possible. I also took a bag of dry clothes to the finish line for the bag drop… just in case it stopped raining by the time I was done and wanted dry clothes asap.

Parker had a special race outfit too! Mommy’s bib number and Boston colored socks!

Parker had a special race outfit too! Mommy’s bib number and Boston colored socks!

I was still nursing Parker pretty much full time, so I had also purchased a hand pump. I had been pumping extra the entire trip to try to have enough for Parker for up to 10 total hours of being gone. He takes the bottle like a champ! I was a bit nervous about finding a place to pump right before the race, but someone suggested the medical tent.

Team Sparkle had planned to meet up at gear check and ride the bus together, but Jolie and Kellie had other plans. Then Elise and Carrie realized that they had left something at their Air B&B, so Carlee, Allison and myself met up and rode the bus together. It’s a long bus ride from Boston to Hopkinton you guys! The bus was steaming up because a bunch of nervous, wet runners just loaded up onto a bus with the heat on full blast. I wanted to take off my layers because I was sweating, but I didn’t want to then have to put them all back on!

Carlee and me waiting to load the bus!

Carlee and me waiting to load the bus!

Carlee, me and Allison!

Carlee, me and Allison!

We finally arrived at the Athletes Village…. er, mud pit. You guys this place was disgusting! I’m sure on a dry year, it’s a great place to relax a bit, wait for your wave to be called, sit down, and meet other runners. Not this year… We did find some port-o-potties that it seemed like no one else had found and quickly used them before others were on our tail. Next stop was finding the medical tent so I could relieve myself of some breast milk before heading to the start line. This at least allowed for Carrie and Elise to catch up with us before the start.

Carlee’s face says it all…

Carlee’s face says it all…

After leaving the athlete village, you have about 3/4 of a mile walk to even get to the start line. This is when Elise and Carrie were calling us, asking where we were. We slowed our walk a little bit so they could catch up to us. Luckily, a block from the start line there’s another big lot with more port-o-potties, donation bins and pre-race aid stations if needed. We all started to strip a few layers, and I changed my shoes and socks. They were dry… for about 30 seconds. We missed the actual start of our wave, so it was kind of weird to just walk directly up to the start line and then just start running… but that’s what we did! After a team picture of course!

Can you tell who is who?!

Can you tell who is who?!

At the start line we all said we’d stick together through about 16-17 miles and then if we felt we could go faster, we would. Allison decided she was too cold from the get go and off she went, down the first hill! The other 4 of us took off a little slower, wanting to have easy miles the first few. We celebrated as we passed the first mile marker… only 25.2 to go!

I took off my fleece long sleeve and poncho hood (while running!) right after the first mile. Carrie took off her poncho and layers around mile 3… crazy lady! The first few miles were fairly silent, people focused on the task at hand, other than the swish-swish-swish of plastic and ponchos all around us.

There weren’t many pictures taken really through the rest of the race due to the rain… which was coming down hard. There were times in the race where it was pretty hard to see what was going on a block ahead of you. I really, truly think we had about 60 total seconds of it not raining from the minute I stepped out of my hotel that morning until well after I had finished the race. Now I will say I wasn’t that uncomfortable. Keeping my poncho on (and hand warmers in my gloves with medical grade gloves over the top and warmers in my sports bra) kept me pretty much completely dry and warm from my neck to mid thighs. I was afraid of overheating with the plastic on, but I had a nice cozy environment going on! I’m glad I didn’t ditch it and hoped that some runners could see my Girl Power 2 Cure bib on the back of my tank through the clear poncho.

Running was really going pretty well through the entire first half of the race. We were staying at a really consistent, easy pace of 8:30-9 minute. There were a lot of spectators, but I’m sure on a good weather year there would have been many more. My family was around mile 7. It’s so nice to see a friendly face, even if just for a few seconds! We came up to Wellesley college and you could hear the roar of the girls from about a mile away. It was SO exciting to hear them get louder and louder! I know the tradition is to kiss a girl… and we all kissed 4-5! We had to. It is tradition after all!

After passing the college, I felt like my energy was waning… like as the roar of the girls yelling diminished so did my energy. I had some pretty dark miles from 13ish-16ish. I was so thankful for the Sparkle girls pulling me along for a few miles. We started to get separated a little bit around miles 16. By 17, I was alone. Carlee had gone up ahead (speedster that she is!) and Carrie and Elise stopped to talk with someone they knew spectating.

Provided from baa.com

Provided from baa.com

I knew this is where the course would get challenging. We’d only passed one of the hills coming into Newton and had plenty more to go. I tried to focus on the REASON why I was there. I had worked hard. I had qualified. I was running for 189 little girls and boys, my cousin included, who can’t. I wanted to show my son that mommy can do hard things. I started repeating some of the girls names in my head. I knew many of them on my GP2C bib. I’d had the pleasure to meet many of them and their families at various Team Sparkle or GP2C events over the years.

I found other runners running a similar pace as me and hung on. I told myself to keep running. Before I knew it, I was through Newton, with the biggest hill to come. This was Martilee’s mile. Mile 21, the last BIG hill through Newton. I cried thinking of her struggles as I struggled to keep running, but I made it to the top and knew the hardest part of the race was over. The rest is (almost) literally downhill.

The last few miles brought more rain. I passed a lot of very miserable looking athletes those last few miles. Most of them did not have ponchos on, and if they had layers they were soaked and probably freezing. I felt bad for them, but knew I couldn’t do anything about it. I was actually ENJOYING my Boston experience, regardless of the weather.

I could see the Citgo Sign. I knew it was still a mile or so away, but I could SEE IT! I just had to get there, and the crowd would start to build by Fenway. Right when I ran over the “one mile to go” signs painted in the middle of the street, I took off my poncho. One mile to go. I couldn’t finish the race with my poncho! I felt a surge of energy and my last 3 miles were my fastest of the day! More rain, more wind, keep going.

“Within the law enforcement community, thin blue lines are a symbol of the role police officers play in a community be separating good and evil in society. Runners will have a blue-line guided path to the finish time as they make their final left turn at Hereford Street.” - BPD

“Within the law enforcement community, thin blue lines are a symbol of the role police officers play in a community be separating good and evil in society. Runners will have a blue-line guided path to the finish time as they make their final left turn at Hereford Street.” - BPD

I took my right turn onto Hereford street and almost fell due to the amount of ponchos that had been stripped off. We had an entire street, two lanes, for the run but with the ponchos we had maybe 6 feet in the middle of the road that was clear to run on. Spectators were yelling at us to be careful because so many people had fallen or slipped while running on the ponchos.

Left onto Boylston. A short stretch left to go. It was silent, besides the rain. I remember not being able to understand how there were so many people spectating and running, but it was silent. I sprinted down the middle, right on the blue stripes, separating good from evil.

Finally an announcement about my wave and to hurry to the finish to break 4 hours. I knew I had a bit more time since the girls and I started a few minutes after our official wave started. I again, started crying. This was my finish line!

FINISH! Right in the center, arms up, yellow skirt, ugly crying.

FINISH! Right in the center, arms up, yellow skirt, ugly crying.

I AM A FREAKING BOSTON MARATHON FINISHER! I always thought I’d be a one and done… but I have to go back. I have to experience Boston again. This city understands running, commitment, determination. I must go back.

I ended up finishing in a time of 3:53:57 (8:56 pace.) I met ALL of my goals:

A) Get to the start line healthy
B) Run the entire race
C) Run sub 4

My family was at the finish line, but told me after the race that they didn’t see me finish! Between the umbrellas, pouring rain, and what I found out was a moment of silence for the exact time the bombs went off 5 years ago (that put things into perspective…) I can understand why they missed me finish.

My bib, medal, and GP2C bib with the pictures of 27 beautiful little ones fighting against Rett Syndrome.

My bib, medal, and GP2C bib with the pictures of 27 beautiful little ones fighting against Rett Syndrome.

Once I stopped running, I was cold. No, freezing. I was sweaty and soaked and it was cold and windy. I found my family, retrieved my gear back and said lets go. I so wish I could have stayed at the finish line to soak up what just happened, but it was so cold. We headed to the car, and on to Providence, RI for the night before flying home the next day. But don’t worry Boston, I’ll be back.

If you’d like to learn more about Rett Syndrome, or donate towards research and treatment, please go to www.girlpower2cure.org.

To go back to the race report archives, click here.

Chicago Marathon

Close to a year ago, I registered for the Chicago Marathon on a whim. I swore I wouldn’t get in, so what’s the harm in entering, right? It was a month after my first Ironman, so if I did get in I’d just use it as a celebratory marathon after accomplishing a HUGE goal. That’s normal, right? I mean most people use a marathon to celebrate finishing an Ironman… no? Well, spoiler alert… I GOT IN!

Race week goodies!!

Race week goodies!!

So after Ironman (which was an amazing experience, by the way, and I pr’d my marathon time there by 3ish minutes… what?!) I took a full week off from doing pretty much any activity. Then I eased into running a bit that second week, but ran a Ragnar Trail race that weekend which totaled to about 16-17 trail miles. Then it was two weeks to go until Chicago and it was taper time! I didn’t even run a last mid length long run the week before the marathon… I was at a health and fitness expo to get some continuing ed credits for my job! I was feeling a little bit beat up, to be honest because of course I participated in as many classes as I could while there… probably not the best way to taper.

My hubby and I headed to Chicago via train from Milwaukee (about a 90 minute ride) on Saturday. Really our only plans were to hit the expo, relax, eat at my favorite Italian place in Chicago (it’s never let me down for a pre-race amazing pasta meal that's led to a PR in the race…) and watch some of the Ironman World Championships on tv at the hotel. Pretty relaxed!

The expo is HUGE. I could have spent so much more time here than we ended up spending. I wanted to get off my feet asap because you have to walk FOREVER to even get to the expo itself once inside the convention center!

While we were at the expo, all four of my speedy, sparkly friends texted me. I don’t know if they had it planned, But I remember Elise telling me there was magic in the air. Carrie sent me a picture of a Unicorn. Allison was sending my fast vibes and Carlee was wishing me the best of luck and reminding me to have fun and enjoy the race experience.
I cried. At the expo. Tears of joy.

Yes, I am wearing pants! Don’t worry!

Yes, I am wearing pants! Don’t worry!

Flat Kristen!

Flat Kristen!

My speedy friends on the West Coast were wishing me luck and sending me all the good vibes… everyone needs running friends like these ladies. They are the most amazing women.

After the expo, we found a candy store (HELLO CARBS) and my pasta place (yep.. more carbs!) then headed back to the hotel to relax, sleep, and hydrate. I also had to set up my race outfit! So many people suggested wearing something bright that has some type of saying/ name on it for the spectators to yell… so I figured this was as good an outfit as any!

Race morning… 42 degrees. Sunny. Slight wind. Finally… a perfect weather day for a marathon. We headed to the start line, which for us was a little over a half mile walk. Eventually we had to say goodbye so that I could go into the gated off/ athlete only section. I decided to not do gear check, so this also meant I was saying goodbye to all my layers except a light jacket I brought as a throw away! Ah! Once inside the fenced off area, I probably had close to another half mile to walk to get to the start line. Luckily we passed by TONS of port-o-potties and I didn’t have to wait too long in line.

Original quote by Alan Armstrong.

Original quote by Alan Armstrong.

I got to my corral and lined up. I brought my headphones, but decided last minute to not listen to music… to just enjoy hearing the heavy breathing and pounding feet of the runners, to listen for cheers. The man next to me asked what my goal was. I hadn’t said it out loud to anyone, not even my husband. I looked at him and confidently said “I’m going to qualify for Boston today.” He smiled and shared that a BQ was also in his plans for the day. We wished each other luck…. and then it was time to go run a marathon with 42,000 of my closest friends!

Chicago is deemed as a flat course, with a small incline in the first and last miles of the race. But there’s about a million (okay like 30) 90 degree turns. Between that, the tall buildings, the amount of people all using GPS, and the fact that you run through a tunnel in the first mile…. your watch will be off. From the beginning. I knew this and knew I needed to really focus on effort through the first 2-3 miles.

I crossed the start line right about 1 minute after the initial wave of athletes took off. This would make it easy to check the mile marker clocks every mile and compare to what my watch was actually telling me. I’m glad I noticed this because after the tunnel, my watch was already over a quarter mile long telling me I was running 6:30 pace. Clearly wrong! Mile one was 8:12. Right where I wanted. Miles 2 and 3 were about 8:10. I saw an old personal training client of mine at mile 4 and gave her a big high five! Thanks, Allison!

I lost count you guys… by mile 5 I lost count of how many times I heard “you ARE killing it girl!” “Go, Killin It!!!” “Yes girl! Killing it!” I was so right to NOT wear headphones and to wear a shirt like this.. SO. MANY. CHEERS! Ah!

Guys I was feeling so good. The weather was cooperating. I was able to grab Gatorade and water every mile. I looked down around mile 6 and creeped into the upper 7:50s. Okay… let’s roll with it.

I knew around mile 8 my friend Tara (pictured) was going to hop in and run 4 miles with me. YES, I know this is technically not right but she didn’t cross the start or finish line and didn’t take anything from the aid stations. Tara ran 4 miles with me, so from 8ish to 12ish. We were flying in the 7:40s and feeling sooooo good!

Hey girl hey! Let’s do this thing!

Hey girl hey! Let’s do this thing!

Once mile 12 hit, Tara said goodbye and was going to wait for her next friend to run with. Tara got about 16 miles in that day… good job girl! I kept feeling really well and was able to keep in the 7:40s-7:50s for the next few miles.

Tara snuck this picture of me!

Tara snuck this picture of me!

I know I saw my hubby a few times throughout the race, but I never knew when he’d pop up. He was at the liberty of the red line and would be running to and from the station to try to see me!

Around mile 16 I finally took some of my Gatorade chews I had been carrying with me. I still felt good and was able to take drinks from every aid station, but I figured a bit more electrolytes wouldn’t hurt…. but I also had to pee. SO bad. But I couldn’t stop… I was on BQ PACE!

Maybe this is where it becomes a little too much TMI, but I’m gonna let it all out there. Here it is: from miles 16-24 I peed myself. Little by little. I let some out. It felt so amazing. I knew if I’d stop and use a port-o-potty I’d lose precious time. I also knew I might not want to start running again, or my legs would cramp up from sitting down. So… step by step, I let it drip. I figured no one would notice… people were sweaty, dropping water cups full of water. SURELY I’m not the only one peeing right now?!

I kept cruising, smiling, thanking spectators, hearing “killing it!,” peeing, drinking and waving through mile 20. Brick wall at mile 20 you say? What brick wall? I was unstoppable! I was running a BQ! Oh, hey wall. There you are… luckily I only hit you with a 5k left. My pace SUDDENLY dropped from 7:45ish to 8:20ish. Then 8:30ish. We were just heading into China Town… probably the quietest portion of the course. Enter… Ruth. My co-worker, Ironman extraordinaire! “KRISTEN! YES! YES! KRISTEN!” “Oh hi Ruth!"“ is what I thought. Then… “YOU’RE GOING TO QUALIFY! IF YOU WANT THIS YOU HAVE TO MAKE IT F*CKING HURT! GO!” “Oh… uh… right. Okay Ruth! I’m going!!” She knows what to yell to get you going. Get yourself a Ruth to have at races guys.

I kept pushing as hard as my tired, achy body would allow. Two miles to go. Keep running. Now it’s just 2k! Okay, one mile. Half mile. There’s a sign every tenth of a mile now. Quarter mile to go… WHY DOES THIS HILL SEEM LIKE A MOUNTAIN? WHO PUTS A HILL AT THE END OF A MARATHON? Last turn… I can see the finish line. Oooo… a downhill? Yes. Tears. Ugly crying. Thank you, Lord. Thank you for allowing my body to run. Finish line. TEARS. Oh, I can’t even walk.

Finish line feels!!!

Finish line feels!!!

A marathon, completely ran. A 36 minute PR. A 4 minute BQ. So much ugly crying. I called Thayne to tell him, because he didn’t have a finish line ticket. I called my parents as I hobbled through the finish area. Eventually I found Thayne and we hobbled our way back to the hotel. He offered to carry me, but I him that he really probably didn’t want to do that… ahem, pee.

Finish and medal picture with the city behind.

Finish and medal picture with the city behind.

Sweet notes from my Aunt and Martilee, sent during the race. <3

Sweet notes from my Aunt and Martilee, sent during the race. <3

I officially finished with a time of 3:31:05 (8:03). I declared my intent with confidence to a stranger before the race. I hope he qualified too. There really was magic in the air! Now I understand why I didn’t qualify in Green Bay. If I had, I’d be going to Boston alone… now I get to go with the rest of my speedy, sparkly friends. Team Sparkle takes Boston 2018!

We celebrated with pizza, beer and friends before heading back to Milwaukee. I guess we need to make plans for April of 2018… Boston, here we come!

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