|Me, Kylene and Krista: Happy to be done!|
First, I can't say enough good things about the location of the race itself. The Des Plaines River Trail in Lake County is just stunning. Leafy. Tranquil. Flat, gravel trails that are kind to knees.
Until I began trail running, I had no idea such amazing trails existed in the Chicago area, from the Des Plaines river to Palos and North Branch in Cook County. Our Lake Michigan, which is stunning, is the probably the best-known source of nature for Chicago, but these trails are something else.
The race, too, was top-notch, with 50-mile, marathon and half marathon options. (I would love to do my first 50-miler here some day...) Ample aid station staffed with the nicest runners, many ultrarunners. The aid station near Mile 14, our turnaround, had sweet pickles. So delicious. Mile 11/18's aid station had CANDY CORN. The best. I love candy corn!
This course also had some of the best markings ever. Great signage on which way to go, and even signs saying "wrong way" to make sure we never got off course.
And the weather was so unbelievably lovely. Just six days prior was the Chicago Marathon, where temps approached 80 degrees -- the type of marathon weather that makes me blow up and throw up. (See: Omaha marathon, 2013.) Yesterday's starting temp: 34 degrees and sunny.
After warming at fire pits just prior to 8 a.m. in the Half Day Forest Preserve, the race director made a few announcements. "If you're running your marathon under 4 hours, god bless you, start at 8 a.m...." Most people laughed. Since we were running probably a five-hour marathon, our "wave" start was 8:04. Mind you, the marathon had only 275 spots so it was pretty chill and nothing like large marathons, where it can take you 30 minutes after race start to cross the start line.
We were off! Krista, channeling her adorable and energetic dog Tucker, ran ahead of us for a while. Kylene's co-worker Matt was running his first marathon and ran ahead too. At the points we were either running with him or crossing paths later in the race, he appeared to be having a great time and a great race.
Several miles in, it was just the three of us. It was great. I've done so many of my training runs with these two that there's a natural comfort level of chatting and silence, too. I really enjoy them.
It took several wooded miles to calm down the race jitters in my head. After peaking mileage-wise two weeks ago, I had been struggling with a left calf that was chronically tight. My brain kept scanning my body, noticing every little ache and creak. This being my seventh marathon, I know that this is largely just race nerves, so I kept mentally telling myself everything was fine. (The compression sleeves I wound up buying and wearing wound up being a great help during this race -- my calves were largely fine throughout. Whew!)
At the first aid station, I chatted with another Flatlander, a nice guy names Alec who was getting ready to do a 100-mile race in a few weeks in Arizona. I'm always in awe of these 100-mile folks. I was feeling calmer by then, too, which was nice.
Mile 11 was another aid station, where Krista's husband and aunts were, with big signs for her. Krista's family is so supportive and amazing, and they're so kind to her friends. I just love them.
A few more miles to the turnaround just past Mile 14 flew by. I was really feeling good by then. And oh man, drinking real Coke and eating pickles was just the best. I also noticed I blew out holes in each of my favorite smartwool socks. Oh well.
Around this time, thoughts crept in my mind about past marathons. I've never had a really good marathon. I've always blown up at the end, and wind up miserable or sick. They have all been road marathons, and this was my first trail marathon, so that was a positive. I also had started this marathon nice and easy, even gently asking friends if we could slow a bit.
My goal was to finish smiling, inspired by Florence Kiplagat at last week's Chicago marathon, where she gleefully jumped up and down at the finish line after winning it. Photo courtesy of Getty Images below:
After the turnaround, the miles are just ticking by. I'm achy, but nothing major.
My friend Krista, though, began to struggle. She had developed a kidney infection two days before the race. Though she was on antibiotics, she started feeling pain in her lower back. She's not a complainer at all, but I could tell she was hurting.
We did some walk/running to the Mile 18 aid station. By this time, I was really worried about her. She was hanging in there, but obviously in pain. I told her it would be OK if she needed to stop -- her health is so much more important and besides, we're running a 50K in a month, so it's not as if our racing season is over with this marathon. Her husband Scott and aunts talked to her too.
Krista, though, did not want to give up. That girl is tough. We continued on, with Scott agreeing to meet us at the next aid station at Mile 21.
Krista was able to run/walk from there. She kept telling me to go ahead, but no way was I going to leave her with no water or phone. Kylene, who was running and walking at this point, had both and said she'd run with her. I ran ahead to the next aid station to see if they had medical volunteers. They didn't, but Krista was fortunately just a few minutes behind me and seemed to be doing OK with the running/walking. She had color in her cheeks, so I felt better about her.
When I left that aid station, I marveled at how great I felt. I don't think I've ever felt great at Mile 21. Wow!
The last five miles through the woods were gorgeous. It was a little lonely. My right hip flexor growled at me. My left calf decided to join the chorus. But overall, I still felt like I was running at a pretty decent clip.
(My splits for actual running time wound up being pretty decent! See below:)
I had to laugh at myself at one point. I pass a couple walking their dog in the woods, and as I did so I said "good morning". Then it dawned on me that it probably wasn't morning anymore -- sure enough, it was around 1 p.m. Running for hours really makes it hard to track time!
Around Mile 25 I was really ready to be done. I was still OK, but definitely tired. I also ran out of water in my hydration pack. It was probably only 50 degrees at this point, but the day was sunny and I definitely felt a little warm.
Some nice people I passed started cheering really loud for me as I passed them, which was exactly the boost I needed at that point. I thanked them and told them so. The guy there said "you're really moving well!" That was so great to hear.
Finally I saw the finish line and started to cry a little. I was so grateful to have had such a good marathon. I heard someone calling my name and realized it was Lindsey, this amazing friend of Krista's who I've run with a bit and just love. I was smiling as I crossed the finish line -- I was so, so happy!!!!
I asked Scott, who was able to track Krista through Kylene's phone, if he had heard anything or could see how far they were away from the finish line. Thank goodness, he said they were close and Kylene had not called him, which I took as a very good sign.
Minutes later, my friends crossed the finish line and we all cheered wildly for them. I was so glad to see them, healthy and happy.
Kylene announced she was never running a marathon again, haha, silly girl. Of course she will. :-)
Next race up: Palezoic 50K, an amazing trail race with amazing race directors!