My worst marathon: Chicago 2014. I suppose I could reframe that and say “Marathon with the most learning experience,” but that’s too wordy for me. By worst, I don’t mean that I disliked the race. In fact, I loved the race itself so much that I did it again in 2016, just so I could have a better memory of a race I knew I was meant to love.
Chicago 2014 was my worst marathon because of how I felt. I had been sick for about a week and a half prior to the race. On race day I was feeling significantly better, but still exceptionally fatigued. You know, the kind of fatigue you feel when you’ve been fighting a horrendous sinus virus for 10 days. However, the fatigue was difficult to acknowledge due to the excessive adrenaline I had considering it was race day. I chose to ignore my bodily symptoms and focus on figuring out how to get to the starting line. I had a CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) map, but wasn’t skilled on using it. Fortunately, this is a huge race so the second I stepped outside of my hotel, I saw mobs of runners walking. I followed them to the correct Redline stop and just got off when they did. Minimal thinking necessary.
Once I made it to the starting line, I still didn’t acknowledge how sick I was. All I could focus on was the fact that I couldn’t move in my corral. I felt extremely overstimulated, but not necessarily in a bad way. The marathons I had run before this were significantly smaller – as in, we all line up willy nilly at the starting line and bolt across at the same time as the gun goes off. The corral start was a whole new world for me. I was flabbergasted that after the race started, it would take almost an hour for my corral to get across the starting line.
Finally we got across the starting line. The first mile was pretty slow – we were all so crowded in together. Around mile 5 is when I first had the opportunity to pay attention to my body. If this had been a training run, I would have bailed right there. I remember thinking to myself, “Oh my God. I feel awful and I’m at mile five.”
I couldn’t believe the crowd support. The sidewalks were packed the entire race. It was so loud that I literally could not hear the music in my headphones. For the entire marathon, I never felt like I got into a running zone. As you can imagine, this significantly added to my fatigue.
Around mile 16, my left knee started hurting. “What? What is this?” I never have knee pain. Normally when I have mild-moderate physical pain, I can talk myself into working through it. However, I was already so mentally beat down that I could not focus on anything other than my knee pain. It got to a point where I started walking. This sent me into a whole new level of panic. “I have ten miles left and I’m taking a walk break? Fuck.”
I finished the race by alternating walking and running. I wasn’t happy with my performance but damn proud that I was able to finish while feeling so awful. Obviously I know I should listen to my body more and not race when I’m feeling sick, but I wouldn’t do it any differently if I had to do it all over again. I spent 16+ weeks training, got into the Chicago lottery, paid for the race, hotel, and travel expenses. I’d have to be much closer to death to get a DNS for that marathon.
So even though I wouldn’t do it any differently, I have to ask: what would you have done in my situation?