Giving Every Last Drop - A Chicago Marathon Recap
This morning I timed my awkward hobble down the narrow Airbnb staircase at 5:15am.
Almost 12 seconds.
I watched the automatic water fountain at the airport fill my water bottle.
Just over 10 seconds.
I counted how long it took to walk down the jetbridge.
About 17 seconds.
This past Sunday I ran the Chicago marathon and missed the OTQ (Olympic Trials Qualifier) time by only 11 seconds. 2:45:11. I also PR’d by over 11 minutes. So, yeah, there are some feelings. But let’s back up a bit.
My name is Carrie Mack and I think I always knew the marathon was my jam. And as of late, American women have been creating some spectacular moments and stories in this sport. Like many others, I am 100% smitten. A year ago I was starting to run again after a summer of adventuring that ended with me attending Wilder - Lauren’s running and writing retreat. Which was promptly followed by my husband and I moving to Bend, Oregon. (Oddly enough, two completely separate decision processes that just happened to be in the same place at the same time, but maybe that’s another story.)
In classic Lawrence sister fashion, Mel and Collier made sure to invite me over before we even had a chance to fill our fridge. Collier had just had her navicular surgery (hi, Tyrion!); and Lauren was a new mama of two; (hi, Zadie!) so Mel may have been extra open to the idea of me tagging along for some training runs. She kept asking if I wanted to meet for a run. And so I kept saying yes.
In December, I went down to Sacramento and watched my dear friend and college roommate Jamie run CIM. She was shooting for the OTQ (sub 2:45) and she just squeaked under. It was a day I will never forget. Watching such an incredibly stacked field of women race their hearts out on that day did something to me. I saw Lyndy Davis smile that entire race. I watched a steady stream of strong bad ass ladies kick it into the finish. It rekindled and stoked a fire that had been left unattended for a while. I remember talking to Lauren the next week and I had this nervous giddiness as I shared the race recap. I think I may have even told her I wanted to commit to training and see what happened. What the hell was I thinking? I discussed it with Mel on a run. She said I should totally do it. As an honorary member of Littlewing, I just kept showing up.
In January I hired a coach for the first time. I continue to be inspired by all the incredible performances and stories by women in this sport. I went to PT. I started lifting again. I signed up for the Tenacious 10. I filled out my race calendar a bit. My coach, Elliott, and I selected Chicago as a good option for the marathon distance after what would be the first consistent year of training I’d have in the last decade. I jumped into some track races. I had a huge PR in the half marathon at Grandma’s in Duluth this past June. Most importantly, and really the main goal for 2018, was to build a really solid foundation. Be patient and smart about training to slowly increase my baseline. Brick by brick.
Going into Chicago I felt confident and calm. I believed I was ready to break 2:45, but also well aware that I have multiple chances. I have had such a blast in this build up - and truly saw the race as the cherry on top. The build up wasn’t perfect (because that doesn’t exist) but it was definitely solid. I am beyond grateful for the support and guidance I have had from my coach, Littlewing, and my family and friends. Two weeks out from race day, I did my last big hard effort long run and it was HARD. I felt trashed and happy that afternoon. The hay was in the barn.
I flew into Chicago on Friday - my bag full of recovery tools, good luck cards, Oiselle flystyle, and Picky Oats. I did a really light tune up run with strides and 3x3 min at hard effort. For a travel day, my legs felt good. I took it easy that night and slept well. Saturday, I went to the expo in the morning, did a short shakeout run by the start/finish, met with Elliott to go over race strategy, and then laid low. I like to eat before a big race like this (I had salmon, quinoa, roasted veggies, good bread and butter, dark chocolate) and so it was pretty low key at our Airbnb that afternoon/evening.
The Chicago marathon is flat and fast. This is no secret. The rain can be a wildcard, but I’ll take 50’s and rain over heat and humidity every time. My only real concern was in staying warm and dry before the race started. Fortunately, I was accepted into the American Development Program (sub-elite field) and we had access to a seperate tent/gear check that made this a little easier. I really only jogged like 5 or so minutes, did some activation drills/stretches, and then was called to the corral.
We planned to approach the race in three sections.
Be Patient (miles 1-14)
I feel very strongly about not going out too fast in a marathon. It seems simple, but the adrenaline at the start can make this tough. The plan was to focus on fueling during this section, to run at a comfortable race pace (6:05-6:15) and try to zone out as much as possible. Chicago is notorious for being a GPS nightmare. Weaving through all the close buildings, a lot of people have trouble with their watches. After manually checking the first few miles, I felt like I had decently dialed in around 6:10 pace and it felt comfortable. I had hoped to be able to latch onto more of a pack during this section, but that never really happened. It was fairly strung out, but so it goes. With the exception of the first fluid station, I grabbed Gatorade and water at every station on the course. Just a small sip of each. (And an occasional splash in the eye, but that’s the hazard of the job.) I slowly ate a gel during mile 5 and mile 10. Coming through the half at 1:20:45, I thought there was a decent chance of maybe breaking 2:40, I hoped to negative split and I felt super relaxed and groovy. At this point, I can’t think of much I would do differently in this section.
Be Present (miles 15-21)
This is the section of the race where my coach likes to say you discover whether you can “make the day.” I love this saying. There are so many factors that come into play for the marathon and these middle meaty miles play a big role. My focus here was to react a little more to what was happening and access what was still in the tank. If possible, start ratcheting the pace down, but more through the effort of moving up in position rather than forcing a specific pace on my watch. Miles 15-18 felt incredible. The energy of the crowd propelled me forward. I knew I was running well, but didn’t feel like I was having to work at all to chip away at my pace. I had another gel during miles 16-19 and continued to get fluids at each station. If you look at my tracking from 25k-30k, I sped up quite a bit. In hindsight, I probably got too excited here. It wasn’t completely outside the realm of possibility, but dropping to a 6:00 min pace was definitely pushing that edge. There was a moment between passing the Oiselle cowbell corner and seeing Elliott, my coach, when I was telling myself repeatedly “make the day, make the day, make the day” and I had a huge smile on my face. Those moments were magic. Go fast, take chances. And I was doing it and it felt GOOD. I feel like I learned a lot in this section. I definitely have some feelings of frustration - like my experience should have reminded me that at the 17-18 mile mark you still have 8+ miles to go. However, I feel like I gained some tools for next time.
Be Brave (mile 22-finish)
This is where things got interesting. I was fully prepared for the moment on Sunday when it would start to hurt. I wanted the chance to race hard, be brave, and finish strong. Elliott thought that if things were going well, that I should have confidence in picking up the pace and picking people off right up to the finish. I started to falter after mile 21, faked my way through mile 22, and knew I was in trouble by mile 23. But even still, I knew I had banked some time and would race up to the line and surely that would be enough, right? I remember being a little disappointed that breaking 2:40 was out of the equation, but was still very confident in breaking 2:45. Yep. That happened. At this point in the race, it is just that - a race. No reason to look at your watch. Just be brave and leave it out there. I’ve faltered here before. I can be very tied to pace and predictions and mental math mindfucks. I had promised myself that would not be the case. I wanted to be in the race and stay strong all the way to the finish. I had visualized what this would be like countless times. I was heartbroken. I couldn’t feel my legs. I guess I knew I was making forward progress because the scenery was changing, but I don’t really know how I was doing it. My dear friend Erin was going to be at the 25 mile mark and I kept thinking once I saw her, I could power to the finish. She was having trouble getting the tracking results, but was texting with my husband and was well aware that I was cutting it close. She was there, and I could feel her efforts to move me forward. “I can do this.” “Make the day.” “Strong as a mountain.” “Be brave.” “I can do this.” “Make the day.” “Strong as a mountain.” “Be brave.” Over and over and over again. At the 400 meters to go sign I still believed I could do it. I really did! But the clock said 2:43:20 something, and I knew I was in trouble. I didn’t know my exact pace, but I knew there was no way I was running 400 meters in 90 seconds. There is this burny little hill right there, before the final turn to the finish. It’s so short, but brutal. It’s a victory in itself that I stayed upright in some version of a running stride on this thing. What the hell? How is this my finish? I turned and tried to find any last turnover I could while I watched the clock click over 2:45. I was baffled. I had given every last drop. Did I make the day? I don’t know. But I fought until the finish. So, maybe? Probably?
I was quickly reminded of the post marathon finisher chute death march, where you have to walk what feels like miles back to your gear check and then stumble around and wait for your people to find you. Everyone has their flashy (s)hero cape and we all looked a little confused. I took my blue lips back to the American Development tent and peeled off my wet stuff as quick as possible, all while trying to decipher what had just happened. I simultaneously wanted to be in touch with everyone and also be alone. With a lifetime bad habit of always wanting to make people happy, I feared I had disappointed everyone. I called Travis telling him this and apologized. And then I apologized for apologizing. He said all the right things. I was shivering and shaking from tears and cold and whatever else. I called Elliott and after making sure I was okay we picked a meeting spot back at his hotel. Erin was waiting at the gate and I ugly cried all over her. Collier and Mel and Jess Facetimed me and their smiles and cheers helped me scoop my heart back off of Michigan Avenue. And the outpouring of support through social media was incredible. Thank you to everyone who followed along and reached out.
It’s hard to be too disappointed when you know you did everything you could. It’s a lot easier to think about running 2:45 or faster now that I’ve actually done it. The curtain has been unveiled and I’ll definitely be back for an encore. Elliott and I have talked some. He knew I was disappointed, but mostly we talked about what’s to come. He reminded me when we picked this race that using it as an honest OTQ attempt wasn’t really even part of that conversation. I have made massive strides this year. I got to the start and finish line healthy. I just PR’d by 11 minutes in the marathon. Sure, it would be great to have this all wrapped up with a nice shiny bow after my first race. But who doesn’t love a good plot twist?
As for what’s next? Some solid recovery for the next few weeks. I’ll process this race a little more with my coach and then we’ll figure out the next training block. Rumor has it Littlewing might be at USATF club cross, so that’s definitely on the list. I’d love to get back on the track next spring if that fits in the long term plan. I’m excited to keep building off of all I’ve accomplished this year.
Stay engaged. Stay inspired. Have fun. Head up, wings out.