Chicago. Sweet Home Chicago

Chicago MarathonChicago has always held special place in my heart as it is where I grew up and spent the majority of my life. Having not lived in this city for six years it was time to head back and to conquer the town in the best way I knew how…by running the Chicago Marathon.

The Chicago marathon has always been a favorite of mine covering 29 neighborhoods across 26.2 magnificent miles with cheering the entire way. It’s been a race that really has shown me what Chicago is all about. This time around was going to be my third Chicago Marathon.

Not having run it in three years I felt like I was ready to take on the streets of Chicago once again. I took about 18 months off marathon running due to a stress fracture in 2015 that put me off my path of a Boston Qualifier. That injury made me realize what running meant to me. It wasn’t just something I did for fun, it was a part of me and who I was inside.  I couldn’t seem to get back on my feet on my own however and knew I had to do things differently.

Just a month into living in Colorado I came across Lifelong Endurance and their scholarship program.  I started with them in January it was my chance to get back on track and into the running game. I had a team behind me like my coach Kaitlyn Morgan and my amazing husband Kiel supporting what I was doing, making sure I reached every goal I set. The one goal I really wanted this year was to qualify for Boston on my home turf of Chicago.  The morning of the race I felt the energy with the 50,000 other people entering the starting gates, all there with the same goal of finishing a marathon that day.

Getting Moving

The gates were so full that not everyone in my corral could initially fit through. People were climbing fences to get to the start of the corral. I thought they were crazy as who would want to get hurt before even getting to the start and have to tell that story. Eventually our corral opened up and we were slowly walking to the start, me nervously tying and retying my shoelaces like I do before every race. This was it. This was going to be my day. Corral C started across the starting line and I was off.

My water belt fell off

Mile one was complete and we started working our way across Chicago and the magnificent mile. Then my first mishap. My water belt fell off. I knew it was going to be a hot one so I had to backtrack and get it amongst the runners going the opposite direction. Not a great start. I quickened my pace trying to catch up to where I was and low and behold the belt fell off again. This time flaying my water down the road. I knew it would be a struggle to retrieve it so I made a conscious decision to take the belt and the one bottle I had left and keep running. I grabbed my gels out of the belt and ditched it in the nearest trash can. Only 2 miles in and already a rough start!

Finding my groove

I finally was able to start settling in, talking to others, making sure I was still on pace, relaxing into the city. The first 8 miles of the race you run away from the city through Lincoln Park up to Wrigleyville, setting the tone for Chicago and what it has to offer. This has and probably will be the hardest part of this race for me (even the third time around) as you’re trying to figure out what the rest of the 18.2 miles will have in store. Can you maintain, speed up, or what else could possibly go wrong?

I felt ok knowing I was down on hydration but trusted the course to provide me with the rest of what I needed. Hitting mile 12 I was 2 minutes ahead of my BQ time. I started to struggle a bit physically with the heat but knew my parents would be ahead in the next mile which brought some joy and inspiration back to my legs. Seeing them put a fire inside I needed as my mind had started to control my thoughts. I kept pushing until I felt my hips cramping and I started shivering. Who shivers when it’s 70+ degrees, humid and you’re running a marathon?

Falling off but not too far

Someone who’s dehydrated. I knew instantly that I could make a decision right then and there to either keep going forward, possibly passing out and needing medical (and not finishing). Or I could slow down knowing today would not be my BQ day and just go for a PR. It was more important to me finishing healthy and on my feet than qualifying. I knew I would have another chance if I proceeded correctly. I started walking the water stations to regulate my body temperature and turned off my music to embrace the crowds for what they had to offer.

Kate Laing - Chicago Marathon

Finding my groove

My mind started to fail me telling me to quit and to just walk the rest to the finish but Chicago was around me getting me thru my mental and physical pain. By mile 20 it was just telling myself to keep moving and to get across the finish line. Mile 22 the crowds by Chinatown were so loud I couldn’t help but put a pep in my step.

At mile 25 I saw my sister who had traveled from Milwaukee to watch me race and I knew 1.2 miles was all I had left. After that I could walk and sit and stretch and eat that pumpkin cupcake I had waiting for me. Those last meters were a blur as I partially closed my eyes telling my legs to just keep moving until I crossed that line.

Finding the finish line

Finally crossing I wanted to cry, not because I hadn’t gotten my time but because I felt I let down Chicago. I felt miserable, debating needing medical as I didn’t know if I wanted to vomit, cry, or just lay down. I proceeded thru the long exit, stretching wherever I could and downing two water bottles I grabbed at the finish. This was the first time that Chicago and I did not end well. I felt like I let it down by not getting the time I wanted but it also let me down too by being 78 in October. In the end I did get a PR which showed me I had the strength there and the training behind me but this race was not my race to qualify.

Being a day later, hydrated, and able to think normally I feel like Chicago is a reflection of who I am as a person and who I have become. When you’re little you believe in Fairy Princesses and believe in their powerful magic and only to realize when you grow up that that is not reality.

I feel like that was this marathon to me.

Chicago is no longer my home. I’ve put it on a pedestal since moving expecting it to be so much more than what it is. In the last 6 years I have moved across the country across three states, ending up in Colorado with amazing friends, family, and an amazing running community. It is a place that understands me and who I have become.

Chicago was not the place for me to qualify, the mountains are. My strong start showed me I could do it physically and needed to mentally train more for this race.

So question to myself, after qualifying for the Chicago Marathon again, will I run again next year? Probably not.

The best support crew

Would I recommend it to someone else? Most definitely!

A big thank you!

This year the race just wasn’t mine to win but it still is one of my favorites. I am looking forward to the next few months of coaching and continued work with Lifelong Endurance and Coach Kaitlyn Morgan toget that BQ. This weekend showed me how much I have to take care of my body first and I have to train my mind just as much as I train my body. I’m going to rest, reflect, and then find that perfect spring race to get that BQ!

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