The Chicago Chronicles: How It All Went Down
This is definitely the hardest post I’ve had to write so far. That could explain why it took me so long to do it. I’ve been racking my brain on where to even begin. So I think I’ll start from the end. I really wanted to sit down and write this right after crossing that finish line because of how happy I was. However, an ice bath and then beer with my teammates took priority.
And then a few days later, reality set in.
This was the most fun marathon I have ever run (second to NYC of course), and I was so choked up with joy after crossing that finish line. Right now it’s hard to remember why, but after going back and rereading emails I had sent to friends and family members who asked me how it went, I remembered. It was the perfect day to run a marathon and the crowd was overwhelming. A teammate who came to cheer for us had asked me which mile(s) the crowd support was desolate or not as crowded as others. A marathon is long so there are bound to be a few spots where you’re on your own. Not in Chicago.
I had such a hard time picking a spot where there was low crowd support, because there wasn’t one. There were DJs, bands, cheerleaders, so much stimulation to keep you motivated. The posters were fantastic. Some hilarious, some motivating, some emotional. The weather was ideal, the course was flat and beautiful, the energy and adrenaline was there.
The best part? My amazing teammates cheering along the course. Seriously. How many teams can say that they have runners who would fly to Chicago just to cheer you on in the race? And about 10-15 of them! We had about 35 NBRs along that course either cheering or running, and it was amazing.
I’ve seen a lot in my 11 marathons but it’s safe to say that this is the FIRST time I’ve seen a cardboard cut out of my own face!! Most epic cheer squad ever.
When I crossed that finish line I was so happy. So happy that it was over, that the pressure was off, and that I had such an incredible time out there. I truly enjoyed the race regardless of how I was feeling. That distance is not easy, and no matter how many marathons I do, it never gets easier (a question I get asked frequently). However, the miles seemed to tick by instead of my usual feeling that each mile after mile 18 is like an entire marathon in itself. With how much energy and stimulation there was on the course, it was easy to distract myself from how long it was taking.
So, the million dollar question:
How did I do? Not well.
Did I BQ? No.
Did I PR? Nowhere close.
What happened? I have no idea.
Just like I had said in my last post before the race, you either have it on race day or you don’t. I guess with the luck of the draw, I didn’t have it. I felt prepared and ready. I had followed my training and made obvious progress. I improved my nutrition, and my fueling on race day was flawless. The race conditions were perfect, and it was basically a BQ handed to me on a silver platter. But I just wasn’t there.
I started off the first few miles pretty slow because my biggest problem is that I always go out too fast. I figured I would conserve energy so that when I’m ready to pick it up, I could. And then I got to mile 10 ready to kick it in gear and, in order of appearance, my watch broke, I had a horrible side stitch and had to stop and walk briefly because I couldn’t breathe, and then I started getting nauseous after eating a few Chomps.
By the time I got to mile 15, even without a watch I knew I was too far behind to reach my goals. I decided to slow down and take it easy so that I could enjoy the rest of the race and conserve some strength for the NYC Marathon. I could have pushed it harder and gotten a better time, but it still wouldn’t have been close to a PR, and any “pushing through it” I could have done at that point would just negatively affect me for NYC.
Call it giving up, or call it being smart. But when you’re in that frame of mind it seemed like the right thing to do.
I’ve been very back and forth about how I feel. Considering everything I went through this training season with the heat, traveling and injury, I’m glad I finished and in one piece with no injuries. I’m very surprised and grateful for how good I feel post-race. And by “good” I mean no abnormal pains or aches in addition to the usual post-marathon soreness.
However, I’m very disappointed because I feel like I let a lot of people down. I followed my plan very closely, and I swear it was like every single element for a PR/BQ on race day was there. The weather, the course, the crowd, the adrenaline, the emotion … but just not me. I don’t get it. It’s so disappointing because I don’t know the next time I’ll get such ideal conditions. It was my third attempt, and I was hoping it was the last one that I needed. It was the longest break I had taken in between marathons to allow for recovery, and I didn’t race what feels like every weekend during the training cycle like I normally do.
Could I have done better or something different? Always. Does it matter? Nope. Is it going to feel that much better when I do finally get that BQ? Hell yes.
Training for a marathon is hard. REALLY hard. And fielding your emotions after not hitting your goal is even harder. It’s four and a half months that are dedicated to one specific day … and only three and a half hours of that day. It’s a tough process. And anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. And anyone who tells you their training was perfect and free of any mishaps … didn’t train.
A few of my friends tried to pick apart my race with me looking for clues and ways I can improve for my next attempt. They gave great advice and were very comforting. And some had so many encouraging things to say about their own trainings that it actually restored my hope. I could not be more proud of my friends that did do well and hit their goals (or surpassed!). I can’t wait to finally go home and sit down with them to hear about their experiences.
A few days ago I spoke to my sister about it, and for the first time I was actually honest about how I really felt. I knew that even if I tried to put on a brave face and sound positive, she would see right through it.
Not many people know the truth about running/training for marathons. All you see on social media is sunshine and rainbows with PRs and BQs and everything in between. Rarely do you see anyone writing about their failures, which leads you to believe that you are the only one and that you are alone in your disappointment.
Even though my sister has never run a marathon, she knows me and how hard I am on myself. These things are relative to any situation where you think you are the only one going through something. What she said reminded me of when a few people wrote to me and thanked me for writing these blog posts so honestly about what it’s actually like. They all told me that no one ever talks about the low points, just the high points of training. I’m glad that some found my writing about my training relatable, and if what I said motivated one person to try again, then all of it was worth it.
The truth is, I really didn’t know what I should and shouldn’t write about until today. The morning after the Chicago marathon I flew straight to Phoenix to start a two-week work trip. Two days later, New Orleans. And then Tampa, Tallahassee, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and now California. I took an entire week off from running (something I haven’t done in a very long time), and after two very short runs in Florida, I decided to take a stab at a 10-miler along the boardwalk in Santa Cruz.
With the beach at my feet and the weather as gorgeous as it is, I knew I was ready to tackle this and I finally had the time to do it.
The view from my last and only “long run” before the NYC Marathon. And got to do it in one of my all-time favorite places.
I’m part of a group called Marathon Maniacs, and I recently saw a post from a man who just BQ’ed for the first time on his 75th try. SEVENTY-FIFTH. I’m sitting here complaining about three tries, meanwhile that guy really knows the struggle.
To try three times and fail all within two years and with only three years of being a marathon runner, I’d say I’m on the right track. And the day that it happens, I’ll know I have truly earned my spot to run in the Boston Marathon.
Erica Silbiger is a 10-time marathoner (now 11!), having run her first marathon with Team in Training in San Diego on June 5, 2011. She ran the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, October 12, with her sights set on achieving a BQ. Erica is the Assistant Director of Admissions for the Columbia School of Social Work, and part of her job involves traveling around the country speaking to prospective applicants in the fall. She trains with North Brooklyn Runners. She also blogs at Eat, Sleep, Travel, Run, Repeat.