After spending much of 2012 wondering if I'd be able to run long distances again and then running two half marathons in two months, I got this crazy idea in my head that I wanted to run another marathon. Just one more and only if my hip could handle it. No speed work, no crazy 40+ mile weeks, just whatever my body could handle. And I decided that I wanted to run the Illinois Marathon. My hometown race that started five years ago and began even earlier than that as the first 10K I ever ran. The Illinois Marathon has so much meaning to me. Mile 6.5 is at my parents' house. It goes past my old high school and my old office. It runs on streets I know well and in locations that hold many memories for me.
I'd run the half marathon twice but I'd always wanted to run the full marathon. So I trained. And on Saturday I did it.
Actually, first I ran the 5K on Friday night. See, the Illinois Marathon does the "I Challenge" which is where you run the 5K on Friday night and then the 10K, half marathon or full marathon on Saturday morning. I like to run a few miles the day before a marathon anyway, so why not?
Almost 7,000 people run or walk the 5K on Friday night. For an area that only has about 200,000 people in it, this tells you just how popular the event has become. So many people come from all over the state and the country to participate in one of the events.
I ran the 5K in 26:25 and felt amazing. And you know one of the best parts about running this race? My mom makes me dinner! I went home, stuffed my face, and got ready for bed.
Marathon morning was a bit hectic and I got to the start line a little later than I wanted. Which means, unfortunately, I forgot to Body Glide certain areas (ouch) and forgot my Clif bar in the car. Still, I felt amazing for the first 14 miles.
Unfortunately, I made a rookie mistake and got ahead of the pace group instead of sticking with them. And then around mile 17 mile quads decided they'd had enough.
I've never had a problem with my quads but for some reason they were cramping up and just as sore during the race as I would have expected them to be post-race. I was hydrating at every aid station and drinking from my fuel belt. The Clif shot blocks and gel shots were just sitting in my stomach and I could feel the salt crusting up on my face.
Much of the rest of the race is a blur. I recall funny signs ("You can't quit now, you're not the pope!"), the FREE BACON table (regular and meatless!), and seeing Jason almost every two to three miles. My mom was waiting for me at mile 24 and when I complained about my quads she said "F--- your quads!"
The 4:20 pace group passed me around mile 20 as I was taking walking breaks at every mile marker and walking through every aid station. Kim had given me a charm to carry in my fuel belt and I tried to think of it every time I was struggling.
I wanted this race to feel as effortless as when I ran the Milwaukee Marathon but it just wasn't the day for that. Still, I finished in 4:30:32 which is my second fastest marathon time AND got to run a marathon in my hometown! My husband and my mom were waiting for me at the finish, I saw both Anne (who was doing the marathon relay) and Alyssa (who rocked her first marathon!), I saw friends and former coworkers and I finished a full marathon with no lingering hip pain!
Was this the easiest race I've ever done? No way. There's a hill between miles 23 and 25 that is just brutal (not steep, just long) and it was unexpectedly warm while I was running. But this race will definitely go into the books as one of my favorites. Yes, it's a bit crowded during a few parts and yes it's a bit quiet during others but the course is lovely, the spectators and volunteers are amazing, and the shirts, medals, and post-race food are pretty awesome.
But more than that, I've wanted to run the Illinois Marathon since they started it five years ago. And on Saturday I did it.