Apologies to Whippet Lightning Bolt Francesca DeLucia: this post somehow got lost in the seasonal race shuffle. In a way, the timing is perfect, as the story of Francesca’s big PR at the race can now coincide with her selection as a Whippet MVP for 2014. So it all works out (in my head, anyway)… 😉 Enjoy!
Photo: Atsede Aemro-Selassie
As soon as I registered for the Chicago Marathon I dubbed it “marathon lucky number seven” with hope that my seventh marathon would be my best.
At the start of this training cycle, a veteran marathon runner on the team asked me what I was planning to do differently. My response: higher mileage, including–as my friend Jack Daniels suggests– more easy miles.
My ambitious plan lasted just a couple of weeks before a series of setbacks, including tendonitis, weeks of not being able to walk without pain, and what the other survivors refer to as “the half marathon from hell”.
Two months before the race I had a breakdown; I was convinced that I was not going to make it to the start line. I did make it there in October and I was so grateful to feel healthy again, but I lacked confidence and I wasn’t sure that I was any stronger than last season.
I chatted with the 3:10 pacers in the corral and told them that we would be getting to know each other. However, my plans changed when the gun went off. Another runner had asked the pacers if we should start on the left side of the corral since the course starts with two left turns and they just shrugged. That attitude did not fly with me, so I lost the pace group just 0.1 mile onto the course.
My boyfriend and my best friend promised to act as a mobile cheer squad at miles 4, 11 and 23. As I approached “the squad” at mile 4, I was happy to ignore them with a “thank you but I don’t need you here (yet)” attitude. I think this was conveyed, but I also read the look on their faces that said, “WTF you said you would be with the pacer. Don’t end your race at mile 4, IDIOT.”
Lacking a pace group, I paced myself off of a familiar face I saw slightly ahead of me. Soon enough, we were running side by side engaged in a full conversation. My friend’s goal was a bit faster than mine but he told me he had missed his flight and got to Chicago via a 19 hour bus ride, so I thought maybe we were on the same level. Chit chatting may not be the best race strategy, but I didn’t care- I was having fun!
I kept my eyes out for “the squad” at mile 11 and I missed them! I was hoping to give them a thumbs-up–the universal sign for “I am know I am going faster than I said, but I swear this time is different and I swear I will be ok!”
I approached the halfway marking feeling pretty good, perhaps too good as I realized my split for that last mile was significantly faster than my goal pace. I told myself I was allowed one stupid move and needed to get my act together. But then I also missed a water station that I was planned to stop at, and I began to fear that stupid move number two marked the beginning of the end.
One mistake that I was not going to make, though, was fueling. I tend to train like a camel, but I was going to follow a by-the-book strategy this race and take a gel every 5 miles beginning at mile 8, and drink at nearly every water station.
I kept my pace in check the next couple of miles while taking in the fantastic crowds, which included many familiar faces– Sammy Creath, Jennie Kelly, some Niketown friends, and strangers from NBR with really awesome Chicago marathon singlets. (Trust me, we tried to get ever more awesome ones. Next time). The crowd support was a lively distraction from my growing fear of what was to come.
Miles 18-20 were a breaking point in my last two marathons. When I got past mile 20 I told myself, “no slowing down!” It has been said that a marathon is a 20 mile warm up with a 10k race at the end. Well, if you look at my splits, I certainly raced that last 10k. I shared a mutual smirk with “the squad” at mile 23 and kicked it up one last time.
It didn’t occur to me until the “1 Mile To Go” sign that I MIGHT be able to break 3:05. I could waste time doing math, or I could just run, so I jetted towards the finish. The crowds were getting crazy, especially as I made my way up the ONLY hill on the course, 400m from the finish line. To my surprise, I crossed the line a 3:04:25- nearly a seven minute PR!
I celebrated with a beer at the finish line, then another, and countless more with friends. Although we were a plane ride from New York, it felt like home having a group of about a dozen Whippets in Chicago.
This was a change from the 200 of us who run New York, and the more intimate group made me wonder if this is what normal people feel like celebrating with a small group of friends. However, we Whippets are nowhere near normal, and to prove this we celebrated in style knowing that in just three weeks’ time half our group would be in Staten Island starting the New York City Marathon.
Photo: Ben Ko
This post is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Dashing Whippets Running Team, its board, or its captains.