This weekend I visited Chicago for the second time in my life — to run the 2010 Chicago Marathon. It had been two years since I ran my first marathon and this one was doubly exciting because I prepared more, and got to meet my family in a different city. Though I kicked myself for not tapering down according to schedule (I ran less than I should have after my last 20-miler), I still figured my endurance would be fine. Little did I know the back and stomach pain that would overtake me the day of the race. I felt what could have been gastric pain the night before but hoped it would go away. In the morning, it was there but usually that kind of thing disappears when I start working out.

I flew into Chicago on Saturday afternoon, met Mom, Lindsey and Glenn at the hotel and headed to the Expo. Unfortunately, I got in late so they were closing down already so I didn’t get a chance to thoroughly browse as I would have liked. I stocked up on flavored gels, electrolyte jellies and energy bars for the next day. I also bought a purple and black running belt to hold my stash, since my old one was too bulky. We left and went to dinner at a really awesome Mexican place, where Lindsey and I ordered “Skinny Girl Margaritas.” I was nervous to have alcohol before the race but Glenn and Lindsey are the pros and said they always have a little the night before. I ate way too many chips and an amazing cheese-drenched burrito (only half!) before we made our way back to the hotel. Mom and I shared a room and my sleep was pretty decent.

We woke up at 5am — early enough to get coffee and water in our systems and hopefully pee as much as we needed before 7:30am start time. Of course that never really works but we tried. It was a gorgeous morning, as we lined up against the backdrop of a sparkling body of water right beyond a beautiful fountain. There were hardly any openings to find your pace group so I hopped the fence to be near the 4:30’s. I had paced myself at 4:15 but couldn’t get up far enough.

I started out okay and remembered hitting mile 2 and thinking — wow, this is never going to be over. Normally around mile 5 or 6, I find my happy pace — when I’m comfortable and feeling good. It was bad news when I never seemed to find that. I was struggling in some way from the start. I didn’t feel any relief until the halfway mark — that’s the only time I admitted I could finish this thing. I ran along saying out loud “You’re good, you’re fine, you’ve got this.” It was then that my body started acting up. I made myself promises — a gel pack at mile 15, a bite of a gummy square at the next water stop, a walk break in five minutes. Nothing seemed to help. At mile 17 I had to walk for a few minutes and it was then I realized there was no way I would finish my goal time. I teared up a little then, knowing how I’d trained but soldiered on. It wasn’t long before I realized walking would be a major part of this race for me — which felt like utter failure. Could I really say I “ran” the Chicago Marathon when I walked several miles of it? A bad mood set in and I trudged along. I would pick up running again but every time I stopped, the pain flared up and it took forever to go away.

At mile 22, I wasn’t even walking fast, just moving and I had to sit on the curb. I called Lindsey — who was already finished — and said I thought I might have to quit. It was the most defeating feeling. At that point, walking four miles sounded like walking across the desert. My back pain was severe. I was most upset because I knew my body was fine otherwise. The heat was not bothering me, my legs were strong and I had the endurance to keep going had it not been for the excruciating back and stomach pain. Lindsey convinced me to keep walking, saying she and Glenn would walk towards me now. I stopped to try and use the restroom at mile 23 and that was not helpful either. I was able to pick up speed on my walk and at mile 24 I attempted a jog again, as the pain had subsided some. The truth was, I thought it was pointless to run now that I had walked for so long but something in my mind said, just do it. You are here, you are in the marathon and it doesn’t matter if you have walked. If you can run — run! I was surrounded by others and the crowd was unmatchable — so encouraging and awesome. They didn’t care about my time, they just cared about helping me keep going. At mile 24, the announcer said, “You are almost finishers of the Chicago Marathon.” I wanted to tell him to shut up — that he had no idea how 2 miles of painful running did NOT sound CLOSE to finishing. Yet, I kept running and gained energy. Because my body WAS prepared, I actually sped up and finished the last 2 miles with relative ease.

I crossed the Finish Line 2 minutes after Mom, who had run at a slower pace the entire way. I had run the first half too fast, I’m sure, and that might have contributed to the entire downfall. Either way, I finished and was glad I did not quit when I thought I couldn’t go another step. It was one of those moments where — when you think you can’t go any further, you can.

The feeling after running a marathon is one of satisfaction. Your legs ache and you walk a little sideways, but proudly. You know, inside, that you’ve done something today that most people will never do in their lifetime. I was disappointed in my time but cannot blame myself for having an off day. Glenn told me that every marathon is different — and he’s run at least 7. This is why I was immediately interested in finding another marathon soon, while I’m still trained up.

We found Lou Mahati’s — a deep-dish Chicago pizza place — for dinner. Two beers were all I needed for quite the buzz, and a massive piece of Chicago pizza. After dinner, Mom and I walked around the city a bit and talked. It was nice to hang out with just the two of us for once in a rare while. We were so exhausted, we basically went to bed about 8pm — ready to get up early for our drive and flight home, respectively.

With my crazy brain, I had to convince myself not to do any excercizing for a few days. I logged on to Craigs List to look for bib transfers for the Marine Corps Marathon in DC coming up in two weeks. I think today that I have found one to buy and will run another marathon this month. It will keep me in shape (also my legs lookin’ grand for the awesome Atlantic-City-tastic dress I’ll be wearing with the girls in Jersey!)

FREE: Simple Faith Practices for Busy MomsYes, please!