We did it !!!
Ran 26.2 miles through the streets of Chicago without any injuries, dehydration, cramps or the sad (although probably apocryphal) fate of the first person who had attempted to run the distance.
(A generic picture of the finish line; we were still about 6 miles away at the time shown here)
Experience-wise, it was simply amazing. No amount of training or reading and hearing accounts of the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon prepares you for the real event. Especially when after having trained mostly under 90+ degrees, 90% humidity conditions, on race day, the Windy City lives up to its reputation with cold and blustery conditions – temperature in high 30s to low 40s, winds gushing between 15-30mph (bringing wind chill to 20-30s)! But when you are sharing the road with 40,000-odd wildly enthusiastic runners (see the start line picture below), and about a million spectators alongside the road braving the chill to show support with banners, whistles, cow-bells, music and full-throated shouts (the noise is till ringing in my ears), you totally forget the weather and start having fun.
Feeding off this amazing energy and actually helped by the cool weather, till the halfway stage, the run felt like a walk in a park. The adrenalin was pumping, I was hardly feeling any fatigue and the legs were going strong. I even harbored thoughts of finishing quicker than expected. But then I started slowing down around the 18th mile. Because of the weather, I had dressed with a few extra layers of clothing – which I was shedding by the road-side as the race progressed – but the extra weight had tired me down already. Thankfully, having loaded on a carbs the week before, I did not ‘hit the wall‘; with constant encouragement from the sidelines, and my dear wife running by the side, I was able to keep running and finish.
The moment we crossed the finish line, a feeling of euphoria swept us. I could hardly stand or walk and now that we weren’t running anymore, the wind felt really chilly, but we were on an incredible high. Considering that about 33,000 (officially) had finished the race, many of them in shorter time than ours, it was not as if we had conquered the world. However, on a personal level this was quite a significant achievement. Last year around this time, we would huff and pant while running simply 2 miles around our neighborhood block – running a marathon was furthest from our mind. We took the decision to sign-up for this around April of this year – at that time we could manage to run/walk 3 miles around a course that included some very steep grades. Therefore, to be able to complete the full 26.2 mile course, running all the way (we took brief walking breaks to drink water/Gatorade – its tough to drink out of a glass while running), provides a great sense of accomplishment.
Right now, the elation has subdued a bit, but the muscles are still sore and aching. Steps are being taken gingerly, and walking down the stairs is a huge pain. It was quite funny yesterday at the O’Hare airport in Chicago – you could easily recognize the marathon runners from Sunday by the awkward, hopping manner of their walking.
Ultimately, it was loads of fun to do the marathon – the entire process. There were times during the 18-week training when I doubted myself and wasn’t even sure why I was going through all this pain. Running 30-40 miles each week takes up a lot of time, not to mention the toll on your body. But it is all worth it in the end, particularly at a race like Chicago, where you are surrounded by so many ‘running buddies’ and constant cheering from the sides. Definitely recommended for everyone !
(I will post later – once all the pain has subsided – a more detailed account of the run and our training and some of the things that helped us on our way).