Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chicago Marathon Race Recap

Sometimes we have to succumb to the agony of know that at the end of a training cycle there will be the possibility that on race morning our body will simply tell us "NO". Every morsel of my spirit was prepared to fight the dark horse despair on Sunday, to put up a fight for the opportunity for the fruits of my labor to culminate into one spectacular masterpiece.

I did it all right.

Decent mileage...check.
Speed work...check.
Strength training...check, for the most part.
Foam rolling...check.
Lots of long runs...check.
Sleep...check, well kinda.
Mental focus...check.
Banking it all on one race...check.

I lived boldly. I dreamed. I put my goals out there for the world to know. I tried something a lot of things that scared me silly. I ignored the signals my body was sending me during taper. And then I ran a marathon, or at least most of a marathon.

The morning was beautiful and peaceful. Train was nearly empty, didn't have to wait in line for the port-o-potties, starting area was clear from it's usual madness when I arrived, and the sun was just beginning to rise above the lake with the rays slowly bringing alive all the race day magic.

Surrounded by 45,000 individuals that all had the same goal as I did, a GIANT support crew stationed throughout the city, and taking the chance to run fearlessly in the city I love, I felt ready to hit it.

An easy pressure free start was my goal for the day. I've never benefited from going out with the masses of people, my legs are slow to wake and easy to shake. The first 10 miles I felt like I was really on target for the day. While it was difficult for my mind to focus, my pace felt relaxed and I was seeking comfort in how fluid the pace seemed to be pouring out of my body. My mind felt cluttered by the chaos that was going on around me; blaring music, neon signs, men dressed as women dancing on stages, too many faces in dense layers of the crowd, cowbells ringing like madness.

All race photos via

14 race pace miles were all that my body was willing to comply with on Sunday. 14. Tightness begun to creep up on my groin area for the first time EVER in my life after the halfway point. I tried to fight it for as long as I could, but the crotchel region is more important in running then one may think. If I am being truly honest, I had a feeling that I was going to experiencing muscular discomfort during the race. Once my taper weeks hit I found myself fighting some really strange knots in my left calf and quad that never quite let up. My thoughts about these pre race nuisances where if I foam rolled and stretched enough without any acknowledgement or declaration about the discomfort I was feeling then come race morning they would fade away and become an after thought amongst the race day glamour. The truth of the matter really is that I ignored how much the constantly flexed calf and tennis ball sized knot in my quad were changing my gait for those precious few tapered weeks. I pretended to not know that my muscles were unfamiliar of how to run 26.2 miles with a left leg that couldn't handle it's share of the stress that caused the right side of the body to overcompensate and produce the majority of my power.

Oh foot how you did me wrong

So indeed it did all add up right, right into one beautiful disaster in the middle of the race I had been pining for all year long. The race that made my heart flutter and my spirit sing had turned into the race that I knew I just had to get my body through and continue to make "forward progress".

The groin area became so enraged with me at times that it honestly felt like it was on fire and I could barely walk. At one point the pain became so unbearable that I was walking with my eyes closed so tight hoping that this was all just a dream and praying when my they opened I would be in my bed at home half asleep. But it wasn't a dream, instead it was the sad reality that there was not going to be a sub 3:10 marathon for me at that particular moment in time.

Mile 15 was when I first realized that some major adjustments to my race plan were going to be necessary to make it through the remaining distance, and my heart wept a bit. There was nothing I could have done at that point to change what was going on with my body, I just had to accept and make it through this experience with a smile on my face. My body was making it very clear that it would not tolerate low 7 minute pace any longer and that each of the remaining miles had to be evaluated separately.

Passing 16 I saw my husband and some friends. D could tell from the look in my eyes that things were starting to fall apart for me. He asked if I was okay to which I could only reply "I'm just trying to stay positive". My mind was yearning for silence but with the crowd roaring and my iPod blaring Emenim in my ears I knew that I wasn't going to find it here.

Smiling to not let the pain get me down

When the point in time came where I needed to let go of any notion of a finish based on numbers and to start thinking about surviving this marathon in one piece, all I could think about was "I am a forever runner, I am not a right now runner". The best decision I could have made for myself in the late miles of the race was to stop forcing myself to race this thing and just cross the finish line, so I walked. A LOT. I decided that I would rather let one race go down the crapper finishing in a less then ideal time so that my body would still be able to run for future races. I have no shame in that, and quite honestly I am proud that I stopped pressing the pace when I did. It is now four days later and I am still having abnormal hip pains. My mind knows that these pains will eventually go away and life will presume as normal because I listened to the signals my body was sending me, and I don't even want to imagine what I would be feeling like if I didn't.

Finish chute, for sure wasn't feeling a smile here

Life is a beautiful gamble. I would rather put all of my money on black and go down trying something boldly over sheepishly walking away from something wasting time  and wondering "what if...". I don't live my life by what ifs, I live it through experiences and situations that make me feel vulnerable and challenged. This experience challenged me every bit of the way, and I failed. I FAILED MISERABLY! But AMEN to that!

I am human.
My body has limits.
My body reached it's limit.
But I still finished that race,
and there will always be another.

I finished the marathon in 3:26...and that would be 16 minutes off of my goal time. All 16 of those minutes were picked up in the last 10 miles where I walked a total of 9 different times. During those 10 miles I was passed by a former high school running teammate, I ate a freeze pop, a cursed out loud several times, ran mile 25 with my hubby, heard someone yell "go chicago runner girl", and smiled quite frequently despite the fact that my body felt like it was falling apart.

Cherry freeze pop...mmm, don't mind if I do

Maybe I didn't meet my A goal for the day, but I finished my 6th marathon in 3:26 with a crippled body. There will be another marathon one day where I'll get that sub 3:10, and it will hurt so good. I'm not worried about it or ashamed with my finishing time because I haven't given up yet on chasing down my dreams. And that my friends will always keep me moving. 


  1. i always think of that old man in "spirit of the marathon", who explained why he is still running at age 90 or whatever by saying, "well, i ran one, and it didn't go well, so i ran another, and i still thought i coulda done better, so i ran another, and so on and so forth." we're all just running for... that perfect run.

    thanks so much for posting this, though. i'm getting over a crappy race as well, and it is definitely inspiring to read about others who are excited to just keep going too.

  2. You're awesome. And your finish time may not have been your A goal but it's still an incredible time! You did EVERYTHING right. You trained your ass off. You just never know what your body will do on race day. Your groin had it out for you, I guess. How is your body feeling today?

  3. Well, our goal times are vastly different, and our issues weren't the same, but we both had goal races we did everything right for, and it it didn't work out for either of us.

    BUT. We will both race another day. And THAT is a good thing :)

  4. Wow, sorry to hear that your groin gave you problems during the race. It sounds like your race was going perfect until that point. I guess just take it easy for now, and hopefully you will be able to get back out there soon.

    Though, congrats on the PR! You have had an awesome 2011 with breaking basically all of your PRs during this year.

  5. Oh my goodness. I am so proud of you for listening to your body when your mind really wanted to keep pushing. I think you still did awesome considering how what was going on. There will be more marathons in your future and you will get your sub 3:10 :) You have such a good attitude about it all.

    p.s. - I've been away too long - you're new blog layout is super cute!

  6. sounds like you handled it like a champ! really, what can you do? running requires alot of things to go perfectly.. and not all of those things are within your control. and that mantra of yours? "forever runner, not a right now runner" i'll be holding on to that for next time i am needing some great wisdom on a run or at a race... love it!

  7. Sometimes you do everything right, and it just doesn't happen. It sounds like your body did all it could do, and then it finally said, "To hell with you." I know that feeling.

    For 9 months, I did everything that I could to prepare for a natural childbirth. Classes. Proper nutrition. Prenatal massage. Exercise. Meditation. You name it. And then the day before my official due date with my first child, my body said F you (severe high blood pressure issues). From there, I found may way into an unrecoverable cascade of interventions that ended in broken dreams and a broken body. It took my body months to get back to normal. MONTHS! (I'll spare you the gory details...)

    But I finished the race. I even got a pretty cool prize at the end. ;-)

    There was another race. Two more, in fact. And they were both awesome. They were everything that the one in 2003 wasn't. You betcha that they hurt so good!

    There will be *many* more races for you. And you *will* reach your goals. Keep dreaming, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

    Keep moving!

  8. Holy smokes Britt! You did great and you look awesome in your race pics!

  9. you are incredible. thank you so much for sharing your story even when it wasn't the one you hoped. you are so strong to just keep going and to come out with a positive and determined attitude on the other side! you WILL get your goals!

  10. First rule: never put all your eggs in one race-basket. I never learned that, I just decided it has to be true. because I can't handle that kind of pressure, and it would make me break on race day.

    Now hear hear -- Britt, isn't this a PR for you?! Isn't that some sort of amazing, that you freakin PR's on a roaring injury? like whoa.

    I had a groin injury that lasted about 3 months when I was in college. It's unbelievably painful. I also always have phantom (or real?) hints of an injury before races. SOmetimes they turn into reality, sometimes they don't. Seriously, this is all no big deal. You will run so many other races in your life. I think this still belongs in the category of "not too bad at all", but then again, I didn't train my heart out as you have.

  11. Baby that hip! You've got plenty of 3:10 finishes ahead...but baby that hip!

  12. I love the you lived boldly so much better than the alternative and I admire you for it. Sometimes the stars align and sometimes they don't. Thankfully there will be next year, but I must say I am still impressed with your time for being in so much pain. You are amazing, don''t forget that.

  13. You are awesome!! Do you realize that most people can't even come close to the times you can pull off? I had a bad race too and I know hard it can be to swallow! You are so goal driven and focused so I know that you will be back with a vengeance!! Please continue to motivate all of us with your greatness!! You did the right thing in this race. You listened to your body. Your time was amazing in spite of the issues you were up against. No matter what happened in that race you are awesome!!!

  14. Wowzers Britt. Talk about brave! I am so proud that you ran and walked your own race. Sometimes I think the fact that we put our hopes and dreams out here in a public forum causes us to run for others approval and not ourselves. Not you girl. I'm glad to hear that you're being kind to yourself and that groin. Rest up! You are an inspiration to us all!

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  16. I just stumbled across your blog and just wanted to say even if you didn't meet your goal time I think 3:26 is pretty amazing! Congrats even if you aren't happy with your race. Just think there will be next time!

  17. I can't even imagine running the second half of a marathon in that much pain! Girl, you are right...there is ALWAYS another race.
    It is crazy how a small injury can cause other BIGGER injuries because we adjust our form etc to make the small injury feel better. Hope that makes sense. That 3:10 will be here SOON!
    PS Eminem is always on my race playlist:)

  18. I'm new to your blog, but you're amazing. Hands down. Wow. :)

  19. Yup…you’ll get your sub 3:10. I’m sure of it.

    So sorry to hear that you had a tough race…but we need these tough races.
    We need’em to truly appreciate the ones that we smash.
    As bad as I wanted to run in Chi-Town this year…life had other plans.
    Since I wasn’t running, I was hoping that you’d have a great race, but I smiled when I read this post…because in typical Britt fashion, you processed the race like a trooper and left us with an inspiration story to add to our purses of motivation (mine's not so much of a purse as it is a European carry-all. You can still be tough and carry your stuff).

    I’ve got a feeling next year is going to be a good one for fast races.

    P.S. Probably the best thing I've ever read goes like this:
    “…the crotchel region is more important in running then one may think “
    I’m so making a t-shirt with that on it.

    Congrats on running your 6th marathon...And 3:26 with a crippled body is still bad-ass.


  20. Hi!! I've been following you for a little while now, not sure if I've commented before but, anyways... :)

    Some races are very humbling. Humble pie is the best pie to take a bite out of because it has zero calories. I've had two marathons Maui & Long Beach where I felt my efforts in training were going to help me to attain a PR. Weather, poor pacing could've attributed to no PR in my case. But, I dunno...the marathon is tricky. So many things can happen. Sometimes it's just not our day! You're a talented runner and you've set some stellar PR's this year, so FAR! You will achieve your goal in the marathon. Patience, consistency and a good attitude will get you there! I don't feel you've reached your peak yet! YOU WILL DO IT!!

  21. Transitioning from running the race you want to run to running the race you're given is a hard one to manage. But from my perspective you did a great job at it. You ran a smart race and pulled back when you had to. Looking forward to seeing what you can do in the future!

    And may I suggest Milwaukee as a great place to run a marathon without all the crazy, distracting hoopla of Chicago?

  22. You are an amazing inspiration. Please know that I cannot even imagine the pace you must have been going at and I just hope to run a half marathon someday with 7 something minute miles.....I don't think I could ever do a full marathon let alone with that kind of a pace. I am such a mental mess after half marathons so I just wanted to comment to let you know that my heart goes out to you. You are AMAZING!

  23. Oh Britt - thank you for sharing all the details...i'm glad you gave yourself a few days to think it all through and take time for yourself. You seem to now have embraced what happened during your race in a way that will only make you grow stronger and into an even better athlete (although I don't really know how that's possible!).

    Your dedication to the sport is so obvious when you said you knew not to push yourself to the point of causing serious injury to the point where you would no longer be able to race in the future, that's SO smart, especially to be able to make that sort of decision in the heat of the moment.

    I hope you are healing up and resting - you really are SUCH AN INSPIRATION for me and so many others...your faith, commitment and dedication to the sport say far more about you than some silly time on a clock!

    Oh and can I tell you how much I love your city? I seriously fell in love with that place (other than the 26.2 mile TREK I had, that wasn't as fun...)


  24. This was a really great post because I think so many runners need examples of how to analyze a race and deal with it in a factual, but constructive way. I hope you have a speedy recovery

  25. Oh sweet BRitt. It broke my heart to not get you see the fruits of your labour. in the just plain SUCKS! Ugh. I remember all too well falling apart on my marathon in May and watching my dreams slip away with every friggin mile. BUT...BUT there are MORE races and I KNOW WITH ALL MY HEART that you will still get that 3:10 or 3:05 or BETTER! sometimes the timing just isn't right. we may never know why...maybe God has a bigger plan to which we cannot see all the details right now. You get back on that horse and keep runnin' b/c you are amazing. Your training showed you and every one of us what you are capable of. One race cannot take that away. You did the work, The benefits are THERE. Your body is forever changed and next race will hopefully go much smoother. I love you. I believe in you and I can't wait to see you continue to do great things and continue to inspire ME! xxx

  26. Ah Britt.....I've read this many times...I'm so sorry you hit a bump in the road this time. I know too well the frustration of putting the effort into a training cycle and then having your goal race not necessarily reflect that training. Of course, a race is just a short 3 hour window and not always a quality indicator of the 1000 miles you ran prior to the race. On the flipside, a driving factor for running those 1000 miles prior to your race "showcase" is to achieve a goal so NATURALLY, it is just a friggin' bummer when things don't cooperate...

    You do seem to have a really awesome attitude about this. A 3:26 marathon in those conditions is HUGE! I've spoken of you and your abilities many times to friends. I will continue to speak of you as the speedy girl from Chicago who is sub 3:10 capable:) Of this I have NO doubt. Hope recovery is going well and KUDOS for getting the race report out there!!

  27. Ugh! Damn that groin and hip! How frustrating to train so hard and have that happen. But you had such an amazing attitude throughout it all. I know you've mentioned a past Chicago marathon where you fell apart and it seems like you really handled this well. (not coming out right, but trying to say that as a compliment :) ) Rest and get ready for the next adventure. You're still an inspiration to us all!

  28. "I am a forever runner just not a right now runner" I LOVE THIS!
    It's so hard to do sometimes but you were wise to pull up and assess the pain. Of course 3:10 is waiting for you. Sooner than later. Hugs!

  29. I'm not a "runner" although I'm trying to be. I never realized just how hard it was... to be consistent, to eat healthy, to make sure my mind didn't quit before my legs did. And, my first half marathon... I finished in 3 hours. I can only dream of finishing a whole one in anywhere near that time. Awesome job. You're inspiring. I'll get there some day.