Monday, October 15, 2012

Chicago marathon

 "Now to Him who  is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us to Him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus." (ephesians 3:20)

I have decided to write two blogs for my Chicago Marathon experience.  This one is more about the race itself and the other which I'll post at a later time, is a little more personal and more about people.  But in both blogs I talk about running, relationships and faith..... so read at your own risk!!:)

Chicago Marathon Pre Race Interview; Newton-Team Alchemy

As I was getting ready for bed the night before the Chicago Marathon,  a couple thoughts ransacked my mind. Besides the thought of,  "Oh my Gosh, tomorrow is the day I will run my first marathon and I have no idea what to expect",.... I thought to myself that my last month had been really different. The crazy, non-stop, nomad lifestyle that I live and had always lived, had been pretty tamed.  I didn't have any stories about forgetting my Ipod on my car, running out of gas on the road or paying the cashier with a power bar thinking it was my credit card. I had made few mistakes in getting ready for workouts and in my daily tasks. Life, for this month anyway, (just this month) had been well.....kind of BORING!!!

 This was due in part, because I had a made a vow to myself about a month before Chicago, that apart from training, I would be taming things down for awhile.  After the USA 20k Championships on September 3rd,  I was happy to finish 8th place. It was my 5th top 10 performance of  the year for USA National Championship races. But every Championship I competed in  (1 mile, 5k, 10k, Half-Marathon, 20k) were all 13.1 miles or shorter.  I knew my next race, the CHICAGO MARATHON, would be a little different than getting prepared for the Mile or a 5k.  I was thankful to have coach Mark Hadley to help me see how different.

In my prayer time leading up to the race,  I really felt God calling me to hide out  in the "Kerith Ravine." The Kerith Ravine was a place in the mountains where God told Elijah to hide out for awhile away from people and society in the midst of chaos and hardship in his country. It was only then after spending that extra time alone with God, that Elijah had the clarity and power to know what to do next. God provided for him in every way during and after his Kerith Ravine experience. The string of miracles that happened after, were nothing short of well...miraculous!!!  My personal "Kerith Ravine" has always been the one consistent routine in my life. My early wake up time where I spend reading, praying and studying the Bible, and any books Christian or Non- Christian that help me to get in a good mind set for the day. But  for this short period of time in my life, I wanted and needed my  "Kerith Ravine" to be more. I wanted to rest as much as possible, engage in a few less social activities, and try not to drive all over the place to meet people for coffee, go to sporting events, train people... the list goes on!!  So I chose to take even more extra time everyday before my morning work outs to read, pray and study.  I went to bed earlier than ever, said no to a lot of great and fun opportunities that I usually would engage in, and tried to drive as little as possible unless it was to training or appointments. I knew the lifestyle was temporary, but this was hard for me because  I hate not being there 100% or being available to say Yes to a lot of things. .....People Pleaser 101,.. I know, ...but that's a whole other blog!

 Anyhow getting back to my thoughts the night before the race, about how the last month had been kind of uncharacteristically tamed, I had no idea that the morning of the race would be just the opposite!! The first couple hours of the day were calm. I woke up at 4am, grabbed my book bag and immediately did some reading, praying and reflecting.  I reflected on a verse that had come up all month really hitting my spirit and soul.  Ephesians 3:20 says "Now to Him who  is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us to Him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus." I had heard it in sermons, books, on the radio, in my devotionals and other unexpected places but I was a little confused as to what the verse meant.  I know that it does NOT mean that having power through Christ is when we always get what we want, when we want it.  God is not a Genie or Santa Clause. And as I posted on Facebook on October 3rd before leaving for the race,  "Delighting in Him" does not mean we always get what we want or are completely satisfied with results of what we do. I think it is more along the lines of meaning that, in doing what we do, we can have joy and freedom in the process, no matter the outcome.

I am blessed to know many people who may or may not believe in God and the Bible, but are content whatever the circumstances. It's their attitude that makes them inspiring and joyful, even in the midst of some very difficult times. These people have pulled me through valley's of the past that are just too tough and hard to describe. But although it's been a tough journey at times for all of us, it is because of them, that I'm still standing. In fact, for this 2012 year, I have felt the most physically and menatlly healthy that I have ever felt. Back in my 20's and whole life for that matter, (I am 30 years old now:)) I could never have imagined feeling so much more free and clear-minded.  So maybe that's what the verse signified for me right now?

 Anyways, back to my "Kerith Ravine" time before the race, I reflected back to 2005, my senior year in college when I first decided to try out for the Penn State Track Team after my soccer career ended. Back then I just wanted to make the team for fun, but prayed that He would take control and help fulfill the desires of my heart, one of them being to be able to use my love of competition.  My best mile time which I knew from Fitness tests for Soccer was in the 5:40's at that point.  I was required to run a 5:15 mile to make the team and I remember vividly saying that all I could do was my best in the tryout and God would have to do the job of making it good enough.  I did make the team and the season went well. Looking back now, I'm not sure how I have run 26 miles in the 5:40's range, but I guess that's what faith,  a handful of great coaches and a lot of supportive people can do for you:)!

  After my quiet time and eating some breakfast, (couldn't stomach more than toast and jelly), I grabbed the Garmin that I was going to use for the race because this is what happened to my own the night before.:....
Thankfully, Susan Black, a woman that I live with in Charlotte and an angel sent by God to help me in my Chicago Preparations knew she was staying with me the following night and I sent her the hundredth text of the weekend to bring something that I had forgotten back home. She borrowed a friends Garmin who had the same model as mine and I charged it as soon as I got it ....(or so I thought)..

Anyhow,  time passes quickly when you are getting ready for a Marathon, and there is just a lot to think about in getting everything together. Bottles, clothes, gels, shoes, bibs, coffee, and going to the bathroom (probably the most important if you know what I mean) were just a few of the things on the list. By 5:40 am I was feeling a little rushed but made it to the lobby for Elite Check-in at 5:45am. I was the last in line to check in and thought man!..these people are punctual!  As I looked around and saw everyone bundled up with winter coats, hats and gloves etc., I realized that I wasn't in Charlotte 98% humidity anymore. It was 35 degrees and cold out, which was absolutely perfect for race time, but I needed something warmer than a jacket to cover up with until then....OOOPPPs #1.

So once again, I texted Susan to bring something warm down, along with a couple other items. She delivered very quickly, but  it wasn't long before I started to get reprimanded by the officials because I didn't have my uniform on yet with my number attached. I typically like to warm -up in different clothes before putting my uniform on. In soccer, we always warmed up in different clothes and then changed before game time. It's my routine for every hard workout and race and has always been very helpful because I am a heavy sweater. I don't like to be wet before the race starts.  But apparently Elite Marathon officials do not like that idea!...and so I had made OOOPPS #2!!!  Then while they were checking our shoes, I was just a about to take the first sip of coffee and I spinned around while one of the elite women turned at the same time and SPLASH!!! whole Starbucks coffee spilled on her hair and then to the floor.  OOOPPS #3. She said she was "sooo sorry" and I said "oh no, I am SOO sorry!!"... and thankfully it did not burn her head!  That was most important.

 However, the thought of not having a coffee before the biggest race of my life was not good.
I always drink coffee before a race and every morning for that matter.
So I asked the Elite officials if I had time to go to Starbucks in the hotel to get another coffee.  They said probably not.  I took that as a YES, and sprinted to the Starbucks in the Hilton to tell them what happened. They saw my panic and rushed to give me a free coffee ....No time to pay.... (Thanks Hilton Chicago!!!) So, With the shoes and clothes hanging out of my bag in one hand, and a coffee in the other, I ran out to the bus making me the last athlete to get on, but good enough for the 6am cutoff time!

I thought my "ooopps's" had been over until I got to the Elite tent and I started hearing my friends Garmin that I was using randomly beeping. For some reason the battery was going down and down by the minute until it was close to low battery. Not good seeing I needed it to last for 26 miles!  Either my friends Garmin was broke or I didn't charge it correctly, but in any event, this was OOOOPPS #4, and I started scrambling!! I texted poor Susan who was still at the hotel getting ready to take a shuttle to certain spots of the race. I knew there was not much time, but asked if she could bring her Garmin to the start of the race. Hers is a much different model, but I thought it would certainly be better than nothing. Once again the race officials looked at me like I was crazy when I said what she was trying to do. (I think by then, EVERYONE could tell that this was my first marathon)  They said that there was NO way she would be able to get through all the camera crews, barricades and police to make it in time.

There was no sign of Susan with 10 minutes before gun time and I was getting mentally prepared to run without a Garmin while changing into my uniform.  And then OOOPPs #5! My bib number ripped while getting my uniform on. On any other day that would probably be the last straw for me.  But the strange inner peace I had had all morning remained, and so I safety pinned it together in little time, and headed to the start line with crooked bibs hanging off.

I was just noticing that I would be the only Elite Runner without any kind of watch, when  I saw Susan who was wearing a bright yellow shirt out of the corner of my eye!!  It really was like seeing an angel, because let me just say,....THIS POOR WOMAN,  had no idea what my request would entail! She seriously competed in an unexpected workout that morning and I think it was her mission to prove the officials wrong!!  She literally had to find a way to get through 50,000 people and hundreds of other tents to find where the Start of the race and the Elite Runners were. To make a long story short, she ended up getting on the phone with a very nice volunteer woman with a headset and this woman tried her best to talk Susan through squeezing in and jumping over the barricades. When I finally saw her, there was no time for explanation. I could tell she had been through a lot and she was huffing and puffing behind all the gates and trying to find me.  I somehow got the watch from across the barricade, had just enough time to learn how it worked, and within a few minutes the gun went off!!!

And WOW!!, was it surreal to run through that first mile in a tunnel with some of the best marathoners in the world!! The 5k came and went and I realized that I did not even think to grab my first bottle! Elites are allowed to have 8 personal bottles with drink, gels etc. They are set up in a special way to grab and go without straying too much off the course.  But being in the adrenaline filled state that I was in, I of course forgot to take my first one and dropped my 3rd. OOPPSS#6! I was sure to drink some at the regular aid stations.

After that, all my ooopps's were behind me. I knew it was time to do what I had came to do ...and just run.  The crowd support, the course, and the scene itself were amazing.  Miles 1 through 10 felt good and I had a deep joy in doing what I was doing.
 Unfortunately as had happened some in training,  my left foot and leg started to seize up at mile 11 and I knew that I still had over 15 miles to go....ugggh.:(
That's when the thoughts, doubts and physical pains can really start to take over for any runner.  The left side seized up so much that at one point, I bounded in the air, and yelled out loud at it telling it to "Shut Up and Loosen!!" The guys running near me definitely looked at me funny but I had to do something? I know from other runners, that sometimes nerve and muscular pain can go away for awhile or at least move to another spot if you can fight it the right way. So like I have seen and heard about many other runners doing, I mentally pushed through the pain, and hoped for better at Mile 12.

When it finally did relieve some at about Mile 12.5, I felt a surge coming on in my spirit. At this point, I tried not to think about pace or splits too much.  It started to feel like I was in the "Zone" and I just wanted to go with it.  I had come to run my own race and really had not even thought about where the other Elite Women were.
In fact, there was a  span in the middle where I didn't even really think at all or feel like I was in my body. I knew that Coach Hadley had trained me well, but was very surprised to hear after the race how even paced my splits were. Consciously, I was not thinking about it.  Miles just kept clicking off in the 5:40's and low 5:50's, and at times, I forgot where I was!

But of course, no "Feel Good Zone" can last forever. At mile 21, the monkey jumped on my back, and even though my breathing felt great, both legs started going sour.  I knew it was common for most runners to feel the "hit the wall" sensation for that last 10k of a Marathon. I had heard all about it, from runners of all abilities.  But once again, Mark had prepared me well physically and I had worked very hard to be the most mentally fit I have ever been.  The "one mile at a time game" becomes the "one step at a time game", where you just keep going one step at a time. And whether I was going with the wind or against the wind, (after all we were in the windy city) I tried to maintain Newtonian running form.

Months before the race my initial goal was to break 2:40 for my debut marathon. Being more of an anaerobic type runner who had less than a year ago been a 3k Steeplechaser, (less than 2 miles in distance,) I thought running 6:05 per mile for 26 would be hard enough. In training, I felt at times, like a worn out old hag with soccer quads that were bigger than 2 Elite Marathon runners legs put together!  And that was just the first of my physical inadequacies for running an Elite Marathon! (You can see more in blog #2!)  As training progressed and I started to get some quality workouts in and build my long runs up to the 20's, I thought I could run somewhere in the Mid 2:30's.   Realistically, between 2:34 and 2:36, which would be about 5:53 to 6 min pace per mile. Mark may have thought different, but I thought that on an absolute ideal day with great weather, I could maybe break 2:34 and run 5:52 pace per mile.  But even then, my longest tempo run of the buildup (which is a run designed to be close to marathon pace) was 10 miles at 5:53 pace and it hurt a lot!  So the thought of clicking off 5:52's for 26 miles seemed out of reach.  Also, there were plenty of tempo run days where I could not run even 6 miles at 6 minute pace.  I remember one workout in particular with mark on the bike, where I was aiming to do 10 miles in the 5:40's to 5:50's range and I ended up giving everything I had to only come away with 9 miles at 6:06 pace!  Mark's positive spirit and ability to make me see that the training plan would work as long as I put in the effort,  along with my support crew of Triathlon Coach Jim Reavis and some of the Charlotte Running Club members, really pulled me through some tough workouts.  But still you can't help but have doubts on days where it is tough to run 2 miles at Marathon Pace!

Sooo, with all that can imagine that I was pretty excited to realize that with 2 or 3 miles to go, I could possibly achieve our ultimate goal of breaking 2:34.  When I turned the corner for the last 100 meters of the race and saw the clock at 2:32: "something",  it was beyond imaginable and I just did what I could to get to the line and straggle over to the side.  And that's when it hit me;  To finish in 2:32:42, 10th woman overall and 3rd American in the Chicago Marathon, was "immeasurably more than all I could've asked or imagined."  Immediately Ephesians 3:20 started flashing through my brain!

All in all, the race was a great experience filled with spots where I felt very strong, very weak and sometimes just ok. At certain parts I ran with a couple groups of guys and other times I couldn't see a soul in site. It was great to see Susan and Newton Shoe people at key spots throughout the streets.  The Newton staff was great in being so supportive of my Chicago endeavors and I was excited to wear a new model of shoes that were perfect for the Marathon distance. I had never worn them before because I had only received them a day before the race, but I had been in that position with Newton before and I always felt great wearing whatever they gave me. As long as they have those lugs on the forefoot, I'm golden:)

I know that I still have a long way to go in achieving what I want to achieve in the running world. To many Elite Marathoners in the world and to a few in our country, a 2:32 is not really that great and is certainly not jaw dropping. But again, for me, knowing where I have come from, and what my body is capable of, it was all I could have asked for for now.  And if that was the last race I ever run, if tomorrow I break my other ankle, if I live the rest of my life working in a 9 to 5 job with no physical competition, I will know what Ephesians 3:20 means just a little bit more.  My last 7 years in the running scene have gone beyond all that I could ask or imagine.....immeasurably more!!!


  1. Loved reading about your marathon journey and how your faith supported your goal! May God contiune to bless your path! Enjoy your accomplishment it was well-earned.

  2. Amazing!!! Congrats on the speediest marathon debut I have ever read about and thank you for sharing the experience with us. Sorry you had so many oops moments, sometimes all you can do is laugh. :)

  3. Hi Stephanie!! Susan told me about your blog and I love reading about last years race in Chicago! Oh! By the way~this is Sarah, from the Elite Team in Chicago...the red head who helped Susan get the Garmin to you...anyway, love your blog...and it was lovely to see you and Susan again this year...hope to see you next year or in London sometime.
    I also read the article in the Charlotte are very blessed to have some real angels in your life. I have an extremely similar childhood to yours~something I wouldn't wish on anyone...I too have struggled with depression, anxiety, and self loathing thoughts...but I am here! I still struggle at times but between god, my family, running, and working with the marathons I'm making my way through this world...well done you for keeping your head high and through the hard times keeping going.
    Be well my dear and say hi to Susan for me.
    Sarah Brennan