At least the pictures are pretty.

The 20 miler was supposed to be next weekend, but we’ll be out of town so I moved it up a week. I had my course mapped out, water filled, gels packed, and a nice cool morning. The first three miles always seem to be a warm up before I can really get going, so I stopped periodically to stretch and snap a few pictures. It was a really pretty morning.

I was feeling good, a little too good. Smashing Pumpkins “Tonight, Tonight” took me up north and I thought how lucky I was to be able to run in a city like Chicago. I let my mind wander and mentally went through different parts of my route. For some reason, I dreaded running around Navy pier on the way back home. It’s not that it’s bad, about a mile around, but it almost seems like going nowhere. I eventually decided to skip that part and add another half-mile before turning around to make up for it.

A little more than half-way through, I felt my self starting to run out of gas. There happened to be an aid station at my original turn-around point, so I lingered a little longer drinking overly-concentrated Gatorade hoping it would give me the boost I needed. Instead of pressing on for another half-mile, I turned around as originally planned and would figure out how to make up the last mile later. Maybe I’d go back west on Roosevelt instead of Adams?

At 13 I started feeling heavy. My legs felt really tight and I was waiting for something to give. Would it really be that bad if I got injured and couldn’t do the marathon? All of this anxiety would go away…

I continued to feel weight. I thought if I was a cartoon, I’d turn to liquid and become a pool on the ground with nothing but pair of blinking, disbelieving eyes. I ran a bit, and stopped repeating the pattern a few more times eventually pulling off the path into the grass. I texted my husband, unsure if I needed a rescue. I stretched and ate a gel and all at once felt the weight of my own expectations and those I’d assigned to others crash down on me. I hate to admit it, but I let tears fall. I didn’t know what to do. I was exhausted, could not make myself run, and it scared me. What if this happens during the marathon?

I took my headphones off and started walking. I could stop, call for a car if I wanted to, and maybe feel more horrible for not pressing on. I decided to focus on the present instead of how much further I still had to go. I kept texting my husband just in case, but got no reply. I called twice and nothing. Did he do that on purpose? Did he want me to press on, not want to give me an easy bail out?

I got a call back about mile later, he’d been out walking the dog and would come get me if I needed it. By that time I was at Oak St. beach and could either keep going down the lakefront or head through the underpass and go south on Michigan Ave. Different parts of me were arguing whether to stop or keep going. I thought a change of scenery and access to taxi’s was a good move and resolved to keep at it. I told him my plan, put my music back on, and headed into the tunnel. Gwen, you were there when I need you!

I felt the gel start to kick-in finally and the change of scenery, along with a song I forgot I snuck into the mix, gave me the mental break I needed. I added the song thinking when it came on it would make giggle. I was right. The shade from the buildings didn’t hurt either. I set off and found myself more concerned with dodging tourists than the distance. I was running and started to feel good again. I took Wacker west and thought if I could get to Lake St. I’d be happy with whatever I managed to accomplish, but I surprised myself and kept going after Lake all the way home with 2-3 15-20 second walk breaks.

I can’t make this up:

I thought about what my friend said the day before the run: that I shouldn’t take the marathon too seriously. I should try to make it fun and enjoy it, wear a tutu maybe, and reminded me I wasn’t aiming to break any records. Wouldn’t you know it, “Don’t Stop Believin'” queued up in the last half mile before home. I almost started laughing. Then I thought, “You can’t write that part. No one will believe you!”

So, I didn’t quite hit 20. I covered 18.6; not too bad I suppose. I loaded my Garmin stats onto my computer and  saw my problem: cool morning, feeling good, and going 30-45 seconds faster than what my training pace should have been during the first half. No wonder I crashed. I was glad I could get going again. There’s hope in that.

So what did you learn?
Oh, boy. Here we go. Well, kids, we learned that I need to keep myself in the present. Also, not minding my pace and dwelling on how much further I still need to go is a recipe for disaster. Once I took my headphones off for a bit to reset my mind, it got easier.

Are you going to bring your headphones on race day?
Honestly, yes. I’ll keep them in my pocket and pull them out if I feel I need them. There are some lonely stretches. The crowd thins once you get out of Little Italy and doesn’t get fun again until Pilsen. There’s a huge party in Chinatown followed by a few more sparse stretches on the way to Bronzeville and through the Prairie District. So, yeah. I’ll probably take them on and off depending.

What are you hoping for now?
I’m hoping I reach race day uninjured. I hope I can get through the marathon with my self-respect intact. I hope I don’t let Journey down and keep believin’.