Beth’s 2007 Chicago Marathon Tale of Survival

8 10 2007

Written by FastForward Athlete Beth Avery.

The 2007 Chicago Marathon was one of the toughest physical experiences of my life. (It was in the 30s and sleeting last year. Can I catch a bloody break?!) This year, although it was ‘only’ 89 degrees, it felt like mid- to high-90s with the humidity. A week before the marathon, I was hoping to finish in the 3:40-3:45 range and was excited because I felt very well prepared, both physically and mentally. When I got to the starting line and felt the heat, however, I threw my original goal out the window and decided I’d be happy with anything sub-4:00. I felt like an overheated engine at mile 2, and I was running conservatively. At mile 8, I was wondering why I hadn’t already spontaneously combusted. At mile 10, I realized there was no way I would finish in under 4 hours and thought ‘maybe 4:15’. At mile 12, I was hoping to get hit by some gang-related crossfire.
Slowing my ‘run’ to barely a jog (think: Zone 0.5), I promised myself I wouldn’t even think of walking until I reached mile 20, but I had to break that promise before reaching mile 14. It was around that point when the race course started looking like a war zone.
There were bodies strewn along the street. People were lying on the road, collapsed over fences, throwing up, or being tended to by paramedics. I got very scared and decided to walk whenever I felt the least bit nauseated or as if I were fuming from my ears and eyeballs. I believe in taking 1 cup of Gatorade at every available station, but yesterday I was drinking 2 Gatorades and 1 water at every station, and my mouth was still dry the entire time. The fluid stations were running out of drinks, so a few times I had to stop and wait until someone brought out more.
Even then, the fluids were warm and not at all refreshing. Many residents and shopkeepers were hosing down the runners. (I was hit in the face with an actual paper cup containing water and found myself yelling out, “Thank you!” despite the shock and little bit of discomfort.) Whenever shade appeared from a bridge or tree, I’d walk simply to prolong the relief from the blazing sun. At mile 20, I decided that if I didn’t finishn in sub-5:00, I at least better be back in my hotel room for the Red Sox game. When I reached mile 23, I heard a police officer yell, “The race has been canceled. Stop running and walk to the finish line!” I was enraged, so I stopped walking and started running (well, it felt like “running” based on my physical state at the time). I was worried we wouldn’t get a medal or even a finish time; that our participation in this hellish event wouln’t even be acknowledged. There were pockets of police officers along the remaining 2.2 miles, all yelling at the people jogging to stop and walk. It made everyone angry. During the last mile, I knew I was going to be okay, so I ran the last 1/2 mile faster than I’d run at any point in the race. My finishing time was 4:35.
(Yes, we did get a finishing time AND a medal.) That was 32 minutes slower than my previous worst-racing-experience-ever, 46 minutes slower than my first marathon, and 55 minutes slower than my goal time. I wish I could say it was fun, but there wasn’t one second of it that was fun for me. It wasn’t all for naught, though. While training I learned new workouts, enjoyed incredible scenery, made new friends, and, on race day, broke down some mental barriers. That finishing medal means more to me than my other 3 marathon medals combined.

On Saturday, the day before the marathon, I bought a t-shirt that says “Finisher – 2007” because the saleswoman told me they’d be all sold out after the race. The shirt took on an entirely new meaning yesterday. I almost want to change the word “Finisher” to “Survivor.”

On a much lighter note…I was hobbling off the plane this evening and a woman behind me said, in a super sympathetic voice, “Awwwww, did you just have major surgery??” I laughed very hard and told her the reason for my condition. I was expecting someone else at any moment to ask me why I hadn’t been vaccinated against polio at birth.

For anyone training for their first marathon, please don’t let this scare you. This was a very unique, bizarre and unlucky circumstance.

Anyway, I think Vicki, Dana and I are going to try to swing by practice tomorrow. Good luck with the rest of the season!

– Beth (who’s happily wolfing down Ben n’ Jerry’s right now and recovering from the multiple mojitos imbibed last night)




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