Chicago Marathon

This is a tough one to write. It's been about a week and a half, and I haven't stopped thinking about the events of that day. The Chicago Marathon did not go as well as I had hoped for and it was one of the toughest races I had ever run. I have run longer distances on much harder courses, but I had to overcome much more than just physical pain in order to cross the finish line that day. I'll start from the beginning..

After my win at the Vegan Power 50k, I started training with a new coach, Scott Traer. Not only is he an accomplished ultrarunner with a win at the Vermont 100 last year, but he is a 2:29 marathoner and had been coaching my husband for a few months prior. I was really excited to be working with him after seeing how he had been with my husband. After looking over my prior training, he told me that I could probably set a more bigger goal for Chicago than the 3:30:00 goal I had in mind (I would need a 3:35:00 to qualify for Boston). At the time, that idea seemed crazy. Qualifying for Boston seemed hard enough, especially with just a few months to train, but I kept my mind open to the idea of running an even faster race. I immediately fell in love with marathon training. After spending months on the trails, I forgot about the pleasure I got out of running fast, and with the help of my new coach, I was getting faster and faster all the time. Training in the heat of the summer was not easy, and a lot of my long runs were affected by the soring temperatures and high humidity, but regardless of the weather I kept my training outside on the roads or at the track. I spent some time on the trails during our trip to Chamonix and at the TARC Fall Classic Half Marathon, but the rest of my training was on the pavement. I wasn't logging high miles (my highest week was in the low 60s) but there were no junk miles and every run had a purpose. I put in a lot of hard work and I starting seeing numbers that I had never seen before. My goal of a 3:30:00 marathon turned into 3:10-3:15 by the end of training, with my last two long runs at a marathon goal pace of 7:10-7:15 min/mi. Running such a fast marathon seemed way out of my league, having only run my first marathon ever less than a year prior, but I was feeling confident and excited heading into Chicago. 

My husband and I flew into Chicago a couple days prior to the race. I ran my final run on Friday, and during that run my GPS watch became totally inaccurate, reading off numbers that were way off. I had been told that this could be a problem the first few miles of the marathon, so I became prepared for this to happen on race day. The day before the marathon, I picked up my bib and then locked myself in the hotel room in order to get as much rest as possible. The morning of the race, I woke up extra early to eat breakfast so I wouldn't have another Miami Marathon incident (i.e. stomach issues) and headed to the starting line in the dark. The race didn't start until 7:30am but I made sure to get over there extra early in order to get to the front of my corral. Unfortunately, I was placed in Corral D which is where the 3:40-3:45 pacers were, because I didn't have a qualifying time to be in a faster corral. Ideally, I would've been placed in Corral B, which is thousands of people ahead of where I was placed. Being placed with a slower group makes a huge difference in a race with so many people. I started at the very front of my corral, but within minutes I was stuck behind runners who were running slower than I was. Within the first few miles I had caught up to the 3:30 pacers from Corral C and it took a lot of energy to get around the large pack of runners. Also at the same time, my GPS was reading completely inaccurate numbers, so I had no idea what pace I was actually running. I couldn't feel any sense of negativity those first few miles though. The crowds were amazing and I was overwhelmed with all of the support the city gave. I decided to just turned off my watch and try to run by feel. However, I did turn on my watch one more time around mile 4, but it still didn't seem to be accurate, so instead of stressing about it, I turned it off again. The first half of the race seemed to fly by. Minus a couple of really small bridges, it was just as flat as everyone said it would be. My body felt great and I felt like I was running on pace. I tried to do that math at each mile marker to determine what my pace was, but it was just too hard with all the distractions of water stops, cheering supporters and other runners. My mind was elsewhere and I was totally engrossed in my surroundings. I kept up with my nutrition plan of eating a Huma+ Gel every 45 minutes, and drank water at almost every aid station (which wasn't as hard as I thought it would be). At the half marathon mark, the math came easier to me and I knew I was somewhere around 1:36, therefore on pace for a 3:10-3:15 marathon. Around mile 14, I saw my old coach and his girlfriend, fellow Strong Hearts Vegan Power teammates, and their encouragement made me feel really strong and really proud. However, not too long after is where the downward spiral began.

Flat Samantha (Thanks Mike Wardian for the advice!)

Flat Samantha (Thanks Mike Wardian for the advice!)

Somewhere around miles 16-18 is where everything started to hurt. I was surrounded by runners with Corral B bibs on, some who actually had their goals times written on their backs which were similar to the goal I had originally had. I started to pay more attention to those around me than to myself and slowly my confidence was wearing off. I knew my pace was slowing down, but I had no idea that it was slowing down as much as it was. Negative thoughts started to creep into my head as runners were passing me one by one, and I started to feel physically worse and worse. By mile 20, I lost all faith in myself and let everything that I had learned the last few months slip away. Within a matter of a couple miles, I went from having this amazing race, I am on top of the world feeling, to feeling like I was way out of my league and had no business running where I was. I started actually walking through water stops as I drank cups of water, instead of running through them like I had been. I had completely given up and just really hoped to just finish in 3:30. If it wasn't for the fact that I knew my husband and a friend of mine would be at mile 24, I probably would've slowed down even more. I did not want him to see me miserable, so I kept on moving. All I kept thinking of was that I had trained so hard and had such high hopes, and now I was just flushing it down the drain. I could not pull myself out of this pity party I was having in my head. Seeing my husband at mile 24 was a huge lift and then at mile 25, I saw my old coach again and he gave me some incredible words of wisdom. With the very little I had left in me, I ran as hard as I could to the finish line. I knew I had finished around 3:21/3:22. I immediately just felt so disappointed and wanted to hid. I found my husband and he gave me my phone where I located my actual finishing time of 3:20:56. This was a huge PR for me. 24 minutes off of my Miami Marathon time and 14 minutes under my Boston Qualifying time. I should've been really proud, but instead I couldn't help but feel disappointed and really beat up. Luckily, I have an amazing husband and group of friends who lifted my spirits, but looking back I still have many mixed emotions.

I don't talk about it a lot, but I have mentioned before in my blog about my previous history with disordered eating and depression. Although I am a lot healthier than I use to be, mentally and physically, I still have a lot to learn and its not something that ever goes away completely. I have a lot of self-doubt and something during the marathon triggered this. My lack of experience and self-confidence collided during the marathon, and I ended up in a dark place that I hadn't been in awhile. Running can definitely be mentally-tasking, but its through running that I have come so far and made so much progress within myself. I know that with some more experience and maybe a little bit of soul-searching, I will be a lot more successful in future. I have come so far just within this short amount time and I need to remind myself of that. I am looking forward to training for my next race, the TARC Fells Winter Ultra 40-miler which will be a lot more fun and will hopefully be a good confidence booster before ending this years racing season.

With all that said, I am very excited to be going to Boston in 2018 where I will have my marathon revenge, but I am also stoked to have a year of trail-running before then. I am so proud of my fellow SHVP teammate, Joseph Burns, who finished in 3:30 setting a huge PR. I am also super thankful for my coach. Without all of his training, words of wisdom and encouragement, I would not have had such a successful race. Chicago was a great marathon. Fast course, thousands of spectators and a beautiful city. Oh yeah, and I also set a new half marathon PR of 1:35:22, so there is that to be excited about too!


**Here is my coaches information if anyone is interested, he is amazing! **

Samantha Belanger8 Comments