Illinois Marathon Recap

Marathon three is in the books and what a day it was. As one of my running friends summarized, we started with a drizzle, then some rain and wind, and ended it with a course closing, race cancellation, downpours, some thunder, and many stubborn runners (me included) who chose to complete the race.

Before I start, I apologize about the length of this post - I normally don't go into this much detail, but so much happened, it just got out of control. I totally understand if you skim / barely read this small novella I've written and just look at the pictures ....

The weather forecast predicted a 90% chance of rain for the 7am start of the Illinois Marathon, but when we awoke at 5am, it looked like the rain would hold off until after the start of the race. We optimistically mused, perhaps the rain would hold off for several more hours (we were sorely wrong).

Race morning preparations always seem harried - getting something to eat, drink, getting dressed, putting on the Body Glide, etc. I foam roll and go through several muscle activation exercises before each run, which takes about 20 minutes. This morning, I was joined by my husband, Scott, who was running his first half marathon. We picked up a friend en route to the pre-race group meet up for a group photo.

Pre Run Group Shot
We all look so dry - Dave, Kumaran, Chris, Scott, Nancy, Me
These are folks I work with - four of us running the full marathon (Dave, on the left end, was running his first marathon), the other two running the half. I would have liked to have met up with folks from the Second Wind running club, the people I trained with, but there wasn't enough time. It always seems like a big rush on race day - probably due to the culmination of nerves, adrenaline and the excitement in the air.

I normally try to take a photo of the start line, but I didn't want to mess with wrestling with my phone, tucked away in the recesses of my FlipBelt. A slow drizzle filled the air as the wave start commenced. By mile 2, it was raining intermittently. I started the race with a garbage bag on, but quickly heated up and discarded it by mile 3. Of course, I missed its protection at mile 6 during a steady rain. In the end, it simply would not matter!

The course splits around mile 12, where the half marathoners head south towards the finish line, and the marathoners, well, they get to run a lot more. You get to experience the 80/20 rule in action - 80% of the field turns south, and 20% turns north, and as a marathon runner, you suddenly feel all alone. At this point, I was still running with a friend, Sandeep, who I knew from my Marathon Training group.

Mile 13
Mile 13 - the only photo of me taken on the course. Sorry MarathonFoto, I know I'm not supposed to use this here, I hope you understand. Can you get your photographers to properly expose their photos, because maybe then I would purchase one...

For me, miles 13-16 are usually a blur. It feels like no-man's land. The intermittent rain progressed to a steady one, the temperatures hovered around 50. I was wet, but not too cold. I came to thoroughly appreciate the course supporters and course volunteers - they were out in these miserable conditions, cheering us on and keeping the intersections safe.

My friend Nancy lives along the course, between mile 16 and 17 and I left a banana and some water at her house. I did this last year and I think consuming the entire banana and 12 ounces of water really helped me with last year's hot conditions. Even though it wasn't hot this year, I still stopped, ate the banana and took a long drink. Maybe it's the "placebo effect", but I was starting to feel twinges of cramping in my left calf. After this stop, those went away.

At mile 19, things started getting interesting. That's when the race organizers, working with the National Weather Service, made the decision to close down the course and cancel the rest of the race because of the threat of lightning / thunderstorms moving into the area. Police cruisers started sweeping the course with this announcement, that we should seek shelter, etc.
Side note: when a race gets shut down, that means people finishing the course after the time of the cancellation do not receive an official, certified time result. So, if you were trying to use this race as a Boston Qualifier, and you finished after the official cancellation time, you are out of luck.

So what does a runner do after learning the race has been canceled? This runner keeps on running.... Note: at the time of the announcement, it wasn't raining, and I felt it was safe for me to continue. A race cancellation also means that course support / traffic control, etc goes away. I was familiar with the entire course, the area and general traffic patterns. For me, the risk to continue was low.

With the race officially canceled, I knew I could stop any time and I would still receive a Finisher's medal and blanket. But I wanted to see my daughter who was waiting between miles 20 and 21, so I continued. When I got there, it was raining, but I was super happy to see her:
I'm really happy to see my daughter. Or delirious.
I also wanted to see my good friend, Jill, her boys and my son who were in charge of the Mile 21 Aid Station. As I approached, I noted they had already started breaking down the water and gatorade tables. I gave Brian a high five and Jill a big hug. They looked cold and bedraggled. I could have stopped and gone home with them, but that internal, inexorable force often referred to as "runner's stupidity" propelled me on.

I kept running. The rain kept falling. The police continued to broadcast the course cancellation over their loudspeakers. Somewhere between miles 22 and 23, I was surprised when I saw one of my friend's daughter, out in the rain, cheering people on. Lia recognized me and pointed to the shelter where her family were and they all started cheering me on. Their oldest daughter, Hannah, came out and started running with me. Hannah is in the eighth grade, probably 3" taller than me and a great athlete. She stayed with me for a quarter mile, running in Uggs boots. She really lifted my spirits.

Which brings me, again, to extol the volunteers and neighbors along the course. Even with the course officially closed, even with police instructing them to "seek shelter", many course marshals still maintained their posts. Even if the police came and removed their course markers, they stood on the corners, in the rain, cheering us on. Families along the route opened up their garages to provide shelter, warm blankets and drinks to the runners who heeded the course closure.

There was a bus at mile 23 to take runners to the finish line. I kept going. At this point, there were less people along the route, but I approached a line of course supporters, all of them holding out cups of beer. I took one, slowed to a walk and drank it. I declared "I really needed that" - it was so refreshing.

It started to pour, you know, the type of downpour that sounds like rocks hitting your roof, the kind of downpour that causes people to wait inside the grocery store because they know they will get soaked if they try to run out to the parking lot. The song playing on my iPod belted out these lyrics:

Hope when you take that jump, you don't fear the fall
Hope when the water rises, you built a wall
Hope when the crowd screams out, they're screaming your name
Hope if everybody runs, you choose to stay
Yeah, life imitates art sometimes.

I finally came in sight of the Illinois Memorial Stadium, after the mile 24 "death hill" (the only real "hill" on the course), after the police barking at us to "stop running in the street" at mile 25. The race ends at the 50 yard line of Memorial Stadium, a great Finish line. On my iPod, a special (spiritual) song started playing as I entered the stadium:

Feels like it's been miles and miles
Feels like it's an uphill climb
Sometimes I get weary on the way
But when I look back at where I've been
When I look back, I'm sure of it
I was right there in Your arms and I can say
Through it all, through it all
I can see You carry me
And I probably started crying.

The course clock was still active, I crossed that finish line in the pouring rain with the worst expression on my face for the
I was probably crying because of the song playing on my iPod. Who would have thought there was someone still taking photos? This is so bad, it's funny.... Please laugh with me or feel sorry for me.
A volunteer was there, standing in the pouring rain, to hand me the Finishers Medal and Blanket. I wanted to hug her. I saw my friend, fellow training partner, Aldo, on the sideline - he had just finished, too. Then friend Jim. Hugs all around.

Here's Aldo and me, after I changed out of my soaking wet clothes:
We Actually Finished It, Race Cancellation and All

My "official-unofficial time", 4:22:48, a PR by a minute and 30 seconds over last year (A PR is a PR, and I'll take it!)

The Finisher's Medal:

My husband completed his Half Marathon in 2:24:31, a great time, with a negative split:

He completed his race before the cancellation,so his results are "official-official".

All of my co-workers in the first photo finished their races, even though all four of us running the marathon finished after the race had been cancelled. It certainly was an Epic Adventure, one we won't forget for a long time! I bet we'll all be back next year, too. And if you read all of this, thanks for staying with me!

Unknown  – (April 27, 2015 at 8:18 AM)  

I was thinking of you yesterday and wondering how it went but would never have guessed this! I can't believe the race was cancelled in the middle of running it! I have never heard of that! I almost teared up when you talked about the families who were opening their garages to runners and all the volunteers and spectators who stayed to offer support after the race was cancelled. Kudos for sticking with it through the crazy rain, through the police yelling at people to get off the streets, to the very end. I am sure it is something you and your friends will never forget. Congrats! And congrats too to your husband for finishing his first half, with a negative split to boot!

thekreativelife  – (April 27, 2015 at 8:48 AM)  

Awesome Shirley! One for the books. So proud of you!!!! You ARE a rock star!

shirley  – (April 27, 2015 at 12:36 PM)  

Thanks so much! It was quite an adventure. Before we started, there was the threat of thunderstorms and the race organizers had communicated the possibility of cancelling the race, so it wasn't out the blue. I took a chance that the race clock would still be on, but even if it had been shut down, I would have recorded my time on my Garmin. ;-)

shirley  – (April 27, 2015 at 12:36 PM)  

@Kyla - Thanks!! Hopefully one of these years you can come and run it with me!

Nicki  – (April 27, 2015 at 2:31 PM)  

I am so moved by your dedication - I absolutely love that finish line photo - it is real, it is honest, it is powerful. It speaks volumes about what it took to cross that line. I traveled several hours to cheer on a high school friend who had lost several hundred pounds and was doing her first 1/2 marathon last summer. I'm not sure which of the two of us teared up more. She was the last over the finish line and all the volunteers had stayed to welcome her across the line.


Amy at love made my home  – (April 27, 2015 at 5:47 PM)  

I read it all! Well done and congratulations!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was the London Marathon this weekend and every time I heard about it I thought of you and hoped that you had done well. Way to go Shirley!!!!!! And your hubby too of course!! Oh and your coworkers and fellow runners, but the biggest cheer is for you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am so pleased for you!!!!!! xx

Christine  – (April 27, 2015 at 8:11 PM)  

Congratulations on finishing and your PR!! What a crazy experience! I can't imagine having the race cancelled in the middle of running it. I don't know what I would have done but I totally can imagine that I would have finished it too. Amazing that the volunteers and spectators stayed out to cheer. Wow. Congrats again!

Anita Johnson  – (April 28, 2015 at 6:30 AM)  

Wow...I can't even imagine running a marathon, but one with crazy weather, and running after the race was cancelled, well... A big congratulations to you for a PR too. The fact that you are still breathing at the end of the race is amazing to me, the look on your face is not important. LOL! Quite the story!

Carina  – (April 28, 2015 at 10:42 AM)  

They cancelled Chicago while I was mid-race several years ago, but even on a good day that year, I wouldn't have been close to BQ, but I didn't realize it wouldn't have counted if I were. What a memorable race for you. I almost think you should buy that finish line pic, too funny! It reflects the misery of the conditions. Congrats on the PR!

Barb  – (May 2, 2015 at 1:39 PM)  

Shirley, this is a great story and this will be the marathon you'll always remember. Congratulations on overcoming not only the weather but the race cancellation!

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