Marathon Weekend

I had a weekend that I will never forget.  It was defined by tears of joy, pride and relief.  Saturday morning was the race that was over 1 year in the making.  My friend/client Jessica had to stop training last year for a half marathon due to medical issues having only completed a long distance of 5 miles.  She was devastated but put on a brave face and dialed her training back and completed a handful of shorter distance races.  We worked hard all year focusing on walking faster with a little bit of jogging and lots of strength training.  The half marathon that was impossible a year ago was a reality for her this Saturday.  I was fortunate enough to be able to accompany Jessica for the last 3 miles of her journey.  Like all first-time long distance finishers, she was battling emotions, pain and fatigue. She never gave up.  She kept putting one foot in front of another.  I left her a quarter mile away from the finish so I could watch her run across the finish line with victory arms raised high.

Tears were flowing from Jessica, her parents, her grandmother and me.  Her eyes are now focused on the Disney Princess Half Marathon in February.  We will be looking to increase her pace and grab yet another medal for her.

Sunday was Marathon Day for my former client Becky and me.  This would be Becky’s first and my second.  I didn’t get to see Becky, but  we communicated via text and Facebook. Becky became a Half Marathoner last year and after she finished working with me, she went on to finish a few more half marathons.  After watching the Chicago Marathon last year, Becky set her sights on participating this year.  She trained long and hard and definitely smart.  The reason I didn’t see Becky on race day is because she started farther up in the corrals with all the fast people because she belonged there.  I belonged in back with the sweepers and that is just fine with me.  She finished with a time of 5:10 on a day that was hot in a field that was crowded. An amazing feat for a first time Marathoner! Welcome to the club Becky!!!

This year the Chicago Marathon had a different feel for me.  My little brother, Rich was going torun his first marathon.

He is a strong, fast runner and I was anxious to see him succeed.  I met him early for breakfast and we walked together to the corrals.  I hugged him and left him with the speedy runners and looked to take my place much further back.  Last year I had Team 40/10 (Julie and
Colleen) to freak out with while standing in the corral.  Not the case on Sunday.

Chicago Marathon 2011 – Sunday, October 9, 2011

I will say that standing in the sea of thousands of fellow runners was surreal.  It wasn’t as hot as last year, but I found myself sweating from nervousness.  I was waiting in a crush of people but yet I was alone. I really missed Team 40/10.  I took the waiting time to go over my race plan and talk myself down from freaking out.  I made the mistake of trying to run the Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon continuously and paid dearly for it as I didn’t have the gas to finish strong. Knowing it was going to be hot, I realized I had to utilize a 3:00 run/1:00 walk strategy that I had been using for my long and hot training runs.  I planned to run the first 2 miles straight to get out of the initial log jam and then turn on my pacer to remind me when to walk and run.

After the national anthem and the announcement that the wheelchair racers and elite runners were off, we all inched forward toward the starting line.  It felt like a 2 mile shuffle.  It hit me suddenly that I had to go to the bathroom despite having gone twice in the last hour.  Oh well. I had to suck it up for the meantime. We passed piles and piles of discarded clothing and water bottles.  My feet stuck to the pavement as partially emptied GU packets oozed after being thrown to the ground by runners fueling up just before takeoff.  3…2…1 – Go! And I was off.

I started my Garmin which would keep my time. My corral didn’t start running until about 20 minutes after the gun went off and I didn’t feel like doing the math every time I passed a clock.  I was lucky enough to receive a text from Alex to look for him and the kids on a bridge just before mile 1.  I saw them and they saw me. We blew kisses and waved. They yelled and rang their cowbells and shook their precious sign. 

After mile 2 I turned on my pacer and waited for the first beep that would signal my first walking interval.  Beep! And so it went for miles and miles and miles.

Having done this race last year, I knew I could look forward to almost 2 million spectators with signs, noise makers and encouraging shouts.  I took mental pictures all along the way.  Somewhere between miles 5 and 6 it became crucial that I stop for a potty break.  Apparently this was the case for all the runners in line in front of me too. UGH! I stopped my Garmin as I left the course and started it again as I reentered the course. It seemed like an eternity and I panicked as I saw the flood of runners going by while I stood and waited.  I knew this would eat into my chance of bettering my official time from last year, but I was still hopeful.

It took a lot of restraint to listen to my pacer and take the walk intervals.  The miles ticked by one by one. I found a group that was using a similar strategy and I became preoccupied with passing them and being passed by them.  That was the case for a few miles until I lost track of them at particularly crowded water stop.  I stepped in 3 potholes on the course. Each time I thanked God that I was quick enough to pull up and not land fully on a turned ankle.  Any one of those potholes could have taken me out of the race. Along the way I tried to remember when to
look for my friends and family. I was lucky enough to spot everyone I knew except for one that was at mile 22.  I blame a fried brain and tired body for that. I felt like I was passing all those runners that went out too fast. I was sure I made the right decision to run/walk.

This is not what we need at our house. Hiding these NOW!

One of many cooling water stops that saved me on the course.

Although I felt so much better this year, mile 23 still felt  like mile 100.  The heat was not as bad as last year, but I am admittedly a terrible warm weather racer. It became obvious that I wasn’t going to have the PR I wanted, but I wanted a little one at the very least.  I looked at my Garmin and I knew if I didn’t pick it up for the last mile I wouldn’t meet my goal.  So I dug deep, choked back tears as I approached the finish line.  I threw my hands up as I do at the finish of every race.  I looked at my watch and saw 5:58.  Last year I saw 6:01. I got myself an unofficial PR. My official finish time was 10 minutes slower than last year. Such is life.

After the race I heard from my brother that his goal of 4:30 escaped him. He ran the first ½ on pace and suffered terrible leg cramps for the entire last half of the race. He would run 100 yards and stop and stretch and that was how it went for 13 miles. He told me that he was hoping I would catch up and so we could finish together.  He had a huge lead and still finished well ahead of me.  Congrats to Rich for finishing under the toughest of circumstances. I don’t know that I could have done that for all that time.

Although my race was not what I expected or hoped for, the other people in my life experiencing their first half and full marathons made up for it.  After a full night of dreaming about running and hearing the beeps of my pacer, I’m icing my legs and writing this post.  I’m thankful for an injury free race. I’m praying for the racers that were not so fortunate, especially the 35 year old veteran marathoner and fire fighter that collapsed 500 yards from the finish and later died.  It makes me realize that although I am slow, I’m thankful that I can do this crazy thing at all.

My favorite sign of the day…”There will be a day that you can no longer run. Today is not that day.” To all the volunteers and spectators I say THANK YOU!  I’m convinced that no other city could make 26.2 miles of torture such an amazing experience.

Until next time…Live Well!

Toni Kuhel


2 thoughts on “Marathon Weekend

  1. Toni, I enjoyed reading this from your point of view after having previously read Alex’s wrap-up. Both were wonderful. Again I want to tell you how you are inspiring me and others by your achievements and the tenacity you display to make them happen. Thank you!

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