The Marathon That Wasn’t: Mint’s Chicago Marathon Race Report

The goal.  200 baby!
The goal. 200 baby!

Race reports are so easy to write when you have a big win, hit a PR, have a great race.

The crappy ones?  Not so much.  Those are a lot harder to document, to rehash, to reflect upon.  But, alas, they are important parts of the journey too.  And it really is all about the journey.

When I started running marathons almost ten years ago, a more seasoned running friend told me that if I kept doing them, it was only a matter of time before I had a bad one. He was very right.  Over the years, I’ve definitely had my marathoning ups and downs.  This fall’s race unfortunately crashed like a brick in the down category.

Down as in DNF – did not finish.

Backstory & Race Goal:
Chicago was going to be my 16th marathon.  I ran it in 2012 and crushed it, finally reaching my long-standing goal of breaking 3 hours and 25 minutes.  I took the Spring of 2013 a little lighter to give my body and mind a break from all the training.  My intent was to take a swing at sub 3:20 in the Fall.  But unfortunately I was in a bad mountain bike crash during a trip to Wyoming and I couldn’t train without pain for several months.  I slowly rehabbed and eased back into marathoning this Spring.  Training was very light, but I ran the Wisconsin Marathon and eeked out a BQ.  This summer, I felt it was time to ratchet things back up.  I wanted to go big, train hard, and go for that sub-3:20.  My coach started working on my schedule early this summer and shot me an e-mail telling me this training cycle was all about 200. 200!!

200?

Yes, I would run the Chicago Marathon in 200 minutes or less (sub 3:20).

Heck yes I would!  I knew that was a stretch goal given it took me 5 years to even break 3:25.  And hey, I’m certainly not getting any younger.  But man, YES, I wanted it.  I was ready and willing to put in the time to work for it too.  So I pulled a bit of a Shalane Flanaghan and announced my big fat, audacious goal to all of my friends and family throughout my training – for better or for worse – 200 baby!  Go big or go home.

Training:
My training cycle was 19 weeks long.  Most weeks saw mileage in the mid 50s, but I bumped up to high 60s and 70 a couple of times.  I generally ran 3 hard workouts a week and 3 easier workouts a week.  Historically, I have always been a bit of a horse when it comes to mileage (relatively speaking as a local age grouper not elite).  I can pile it on pretty well without getting worn down or injured.  My biggest obstacle is usually finding the time to get it done.

Then I turned 40.  When I started running marathons in my early 30s, I recall reading articles about how  Masters runners needed more recovery.  Less mileage and a lot more recovery between hard workouts.  I remember thinking, “that will never be me.”  Yeah, a hem.  Then I turned 40.

This training cycle, I simply couldn’t hit my hard workout paces consistently.  I was sore between workouts and it was definitely taking more time to recover.  But I am stubborn, and as I started hitting my peak weeks before taper, I kept pushing through.  I told myself that I just needed to push through and make it to the taper.  Then I’d have plenty of time to recover.  My stubbornness and tenacity has served me well to hit my goals in the past.  I hoped it would this time too.

A little over 3 weeks out, during my last peak training week, I was scheduled to run 90 minutes with 9 miles at goal race pace (7:35).  I was tired and beat up from my interval session two days earlier and by my beast week the week before.  My coach told me to take it easy if I needed to.  But I pushed through and did it anyway (did I mention I am stubborn?).  After 6 miles at GMP, I stopped for water.  When I started running again a few seconds later, my right hamstring/butt hurt.  I felt okay once I got going again, but after 8 miles, I pulled the plug and just finished easy.

Happy selfie a few days prior to the race after running 2 miles at goal race pace.
Happy selfie a few days prior to the race after running 2 miles at goal race pace.

At first I was super proud of myself for pushing through.  Boom – I did it!  Then, around 3 pm, I got up from my desk at work to go refill my water and I could hardly walk.  OUCH.  My right hamstring and piriformis were NOT happy.  I broke my butt.  Dammit.  How could this be happening my last peak week?

I had my last super long run of 3:20 scheduled for that weekend.  I knew that would be pushing it to run that far, but I would not even think about skipping it altogether at this point.  THIS IS THE LAST BIG WEEK.  Plus, I did have 3+ weeks to recover… (again, stubborn).  So I got out there and ran 20 miles easy.  It hurt at first, but as the miles progressed, I felt better and better.

Throughout my taper, it was more of the same.  It would hurt for the first mile, then I was okay.  My problem was I couldn’t open up my stride at all and really couldn’t run much faster than a 9:15 pace.  It will get better, I have time, I told myself.  I foam rolled, I got a massage/ART (yeeeouch!), I stretched, I slept, I ate well and I prayed to the running gods to heal my broken butt.  None of it worked.

9 days out, I panicked.  Maybe I can’t do it.

But I seemed to be slowly improving.  It will be okay.  It will be okay.  It will be okay.

Race Weekend
Race weekend came and I decided to go for it.  I knew things may not work out as planned, but I felt recovered enough to race 26.2. I wasn’t injured, but I was about 85%.  Maybe even better.  I didn’t know as I had definitely been slowing down the train in the name of the taper.  My goal of 200 was still on the table, but definitely with an asterisk.  My broken butt may throw a wrench into things, but I felt certain I could run a strong race as I was improving and I knew I was very fit after the last 19 weeks.  My race strategy was to run by feel (read: not even look at Garmin until mile splits) and see what happens.  I was not going in with any specific goal race pace.  Run strong.  Finish strong.

The Friday night before the race, the doorbell rang and the boys I helped train for the half brought me some bright, awesome flowers.  26 of them – one for each mile.  They were super excited for me and it was just so darn cool.  It was totally a shot in the arm too – I can do this!

26 flowers from the boys I coached for their half over the summer.  So awesome.
26 flowers from the boys I coached for their half over the summer. So awesome.

Saturday morning, my husband, John, and I drove to Chicago and hit the Expo.  The Chicago Marathon is my favorite race and I love the Expo.  We had fun running around as  I ran into friends and took in all of the positive energy.  My phone was blowing up with Facebook messages, texts and e-mails from friends.  The excitement was palpable.

Owning Chicago did not happen.  But the expo was fun!
Owning Chicago did not happen. But the expo was fun!

Saturday night, John and I ate early, then hit the hotel room.  We watched The Fault in Our Stars, and wow – in case you haven’t seen it – total tearjerker – I was crying so much my nose was stuffy and I couldn’t breathe.  Seriously.  John and I laughed as I said I needed to re-hydrate just because of the movie.

Who  knew tears would be a theme for the next 24 hours?

Race morning was great.  I woke up feeling good.  I had slept well and everything pretty much went as planned.  I got to the start line just when I wanted to and took in all of the amazing energy.  As the gun went off, I and 45,000 others embarked on my all-time favorite race.  The weather was amazing, and, as always, the crowds were fantastic.  As I hit the first mile marker, I realized that my butt did not hurt at all.  A first in the last 3 weeks.  Yay!  7:45 pace too.  Nice.

Ready to race!
Ready to race!

I continued on feeling pretty good and logging 7:45s – 7:55s for the next several miles.  Around mile 8, however, I started feeling that darn piriformis barking at me.  I didn’t hurt, but I could feel it.  I shouldn’t feel it.  By mile 10-11, the barking turned into biting.  It started hurting and I slowed down a little thinking that might help.  Dammit.  I knew I’d see John at the half and I could drop.  But I didn’t want to drop.  I need to at least finish.  Most of all, I didn’t want to tell my son and his 2 buddies I coached all summer for the half that I gave up.  I didn’t want to tell my GOTR girls.  I didn’t want to tell that to my friends and family.  So as I passed John at 13, I gave him a bit of a smile, but a bit of a this is not good look (he later told me he thought I didn’t look unhappy, but that my gait looked like crap).  Around mile 14, I hit a tiny bit of a dip in the road.  Maybe a manhole cover?  Not sure, but as my right foot landed, I felt the pirformis or upper hammy stretch and scream – I was done and I knew it.

[insert some f-bombs here]

Every  ounce of me said “don’t quit,” but I knew if I continued on, I would be risking longer-term injury at this point.  I made my way to mile 17, where I knew John would be.  I saw him, said “I’m done” and walked off the course.  He made his way through the crowd to me and gave me a big hug.  My tears began to flow.  I can’t quit!  I don’t  quit!  He asked me if I could jog it in.  For nine more miles?  No.  I was hurting and I knew I needed to pull the plug.

Not a good race for me personally, but Chicago is still my favorite!  I even got to run with Big Bird!
Not a good race for me personally, but Chicago is still my favorite! I even got to run with Big Bird!

So we walked back to the hotel with my broken pride stuffed into my Spibelt with my unused gels.  John was, as always, a rock star and super supportive.  But I was sad and upset.  I have never DNFed before (well, I did once because it was hot, but I ran a marathon the next weekend).  And I never trained that hard before only to walk off the course hurt.  Done.  DNF.

Post Race.
We booked out of Chicago pretty quickly .  I posted an update of my DNF on Facebook and Instagram as I knew people were tracking me and would be wondering.  As supportive messages came streaming in as we were driving home, I tried to read them to John, but often couldn’t as again, I was totally choked up (read: mess).  I simply could not believe all the  love and support my friends were sending.  So freaking cool.  I am one lucky girl.  I took it all in and it helped heal my broken heart and pride (not so much for the broken butt, but you can’t have it all).  And I know that if the worst thing that happens to me this year is that I have to walk off a marathon course after months of solid training and a strong body with good friends and family by my side, I am doing pretty damn awesome.

Having fun in Chicago
So glad I had this guy with me for the journey.

I haven’t run much in the last 2 weeks, but on Saturday, I ran the last 10 miles of a marathon (that actually turned into 28.2 miles) with a good friend.  She ran her own ultra marathon to celebrate her 40th birthday.  Every mile, she was supported by family and friends.  How awesome is that?  I loved celebrating with her and getting in those last miles I couldn’t get in Chicago.  No better way to do it.  We even did a cartwheel when we were done.  It’s all about the journey.

It's all about the journey
It’s all about the journey

Cheers, and until next time, friends.  Many thanks for your support.

 

Mindi is a serial marathoner. She is a private practice attorney, wife and mom of two awesome (and super fast) boys, ages 12 and 14. She coaches Girls on the Run and is a big advocate of youth running.

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13 comments

  1. So proud of you for sharing this. You know you did the right thing. I would have cried so hard too. I ran Chicago , a lot slower than you ! As they say DNA is better than did not start. You went all out with the training. And that is the accomplishment. Rest up get strong and see you back in Chicago next year.

    1. Thank you Michelle. I hope you had a strong race. Despite my setbacks, it really is my favorite marathon. We had great weather for it too. :)

  2. Wow – how funny we have so much in common. Nurse that hamstring all week and good luck in NYC! I hope we do not have race results in common this Fall and that you crush it!

  3. Thanks for sharing your story and giving me a much needed word of encouragement and caution. I stumbled across your blog for the first time yesterday; I am scheduled to run the NYC marathon Nov. 2, and last Saturday after doing the last half of my last longish (14 mile) run at my 7:45 marathon pace, a few hours later my hamstring was tight and sore. I am a 41 year-old law firm shareholder with a son who runs. Great to find someone somewhat like me out there.

  4. I want to echo what everyone has said – thank you for sharing your experience. I know it was devastating to me when I DNFed my 100k, and writing about it really helped me to process what I was feeling (although I was still really bummed, and for a while). For me (and everyone) you are an inspiration (and I would say more so, because we need to know when to call it a day)!

    1. Thanks so much Cilantro. I thought about you as I was writing this, as well as a good friend of mine who had a painful DNF in an ultra this weekend. It happens, so why pretend it doesn’t? It feels like a failure in real time, but it isn’t. Training smart (not saying I did that last week or 2, but I did the rest of the time) and ultimately making smart decisions is so much more important than any goal, pride or external pressures. I also felt it was very freeing to finally write it down. The fact of it all still stings (training for 5 months with no race result), but I know it was the right decision, and I did have training results. I am strong and healthy (even if my damn right butt hurts). And I’ll be back to fight another day.

  5. I broke my butt a year ago. It is healed (thanks to chiropractic care) but every once in a while I feel a little pull or tug and I want to cry because I never want to break my butt again! It’s such a horrible feeling.

    Sorry about your DNF.

    1. Thanks Erin! Glad your broken butt is better. I can tell this one is going to take a while to heal (I am 5 weeks in and it is manageable, but definitely still barky).

  6. My DNF (my first and I’m sure not my last but I don’t want to think that way) was crushing. It was a half and I thought I had trained. It was hilly but I thought I was ready. At mile 11…11…..2 miles left to go!!! I just sat down. I just stopped. I was cold, everything felt fuzzy and the paramedic said I looked awful. I cried…I mean like openly sobbed as I took the sag wagon back to the front. I was devastated. I’ve finished 3 halves since then and when I get to 11 I get a feeling of gratitude that I am passing that point again. I had done 2 fulls previously and lots of halves but that one race just wasn’t mean to be that day. Thank you for posting your story.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story Lisa! I hope you don’t have another DNF any time soon. DNF feels lonely because no one talks about it (which is part of why I decided to write my race report). We hate sharing our DNFs because it is painful, and frankly makes us feel like a failure. But if you race long enough, it’s gonna happen. Thanks for sharing your story too as it makes it so much more real and true. And it will make our victories and comebacks all the more sweet. I hope your next race is awesome!

  7. I’m glad you wrote this – as you said, it’s important to reflect on the setbacks just as much as the victories. It was a brave decision to walk off the course when you did, and I know it must have been difficult, giving that fighting spirit of yours I have had the great pleasure of getting to know. Add onto that not wanting to disappoint your coach, the boys you coach, your family and friends, etc. Very admirable to call an audible in the face of all of that. You should be proud of all you accomplished during this training cycle, and of the fact that you listened to your body’s signals and made the wisest choice for the situation. Congratulations on these things – and you’ll crush it next time!

    1. I’m with Garlic. Sometime the best, most inspiring thing you can do is to make the right decision for you. Proud of you and so glad you wrote this!!

      1. Thanks ladies. I came home Sunday night and started writing a report, but couldn’t do it. This week, after reading Jasmine’s and Coriander’s (AWESOME) race reports, I felt need to fill the void of Victory does not always happen. So I am glad I wrote it too. And thanks to you both for supporting me so much.