I had one goal today: To finish smiling. Which basically meant two goals: 1) Have fun and 2) Finish.

I realized earlier this week that it took me a couple attempts to “get” the half marathon distance. My first half sucked, I was cautious at my second half, and it took until #3 to feel like I knew what I was doing. So I didn’t expect to figure out the marathon distance at my first attempt. I wanted to finish, and have fun, but not care about my time. I never really made a time goal; when anyone asked me this week, I just said that I’d like to finish in under 5 hours.

Left outside my hotel room :) #DNation #ChiMarathon

Despite sleeping a couple blocks from the start line, I had an early wake-up (4:30am). I met my American Cancer Society DetermiNation teammates in the hotel lobby at 5am, and we walked about a mile to Charity Village at the race site. After checking our bags and taking a team photo, we walked to the start line together. Another mile. It was cold.

The temps were around 40 degrees when I started, 50 when I finished. It was cloudy off and on, and breezy at times. I was cold, then warm, then cold, then warm, etc. I wore throw-away sweats before the race, and throughout the race, I wore my long sleeve tech shirt under my singlet, then like a shrug, then took it off altogether, then got cold and put on my “arm warmers.”

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I followed Vera’s advice on how to tackle this course. I didn’t worry about my pace for the first 8 miles, tried to continue to keep it easy through the half, then let my heart rate creep up little by little throughout the second half. I’ll be honest, the resulting pace was slower than I thought it would be, based on my recent runs. But whatever. Maybe it was too cold and I wasn’t used to it. Maybe my nerves affected my heart rate. I don’t know. Like I said, this was my first marathon; I’m certainly no expert. But I didn’t sweat it. My heart rate was right where it should be, and that was my focus.

I forced myself to take a Clif Shot Blok at the even miles (starting around mile 4), and ate pretzels in between, and that seemed to work … I never hit “the wall,” my stomach never bothered me, I never felt like I was starving, I never needed a walk break, my pace was pretty consistent, even improving at the end. And even though a lot of runners passed me during the early miles, I passed a lot of runners in the last few miles. Once I got to the last couple miles and realized I could finish in under 5 hours, I picked up the pace to make sure I did.

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My “cheerleaders” … apparently a few people commented on my dad’s “I ❤ Fast Women” sign.

Kelly jumped in with me from just after mile 16 to just after mile 23. She had great energy, and ran me through what many say are the toughest miles. We … danced to Gangnam Style like three times during those miles.

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I gave my family a spectating “schedule” to follow, but they weren’t exactly following it, so it was hard to know where to look for them on the course. They weren’t in the spots I thought they’d be, and they would pop up at random times when I wasn’t expecting. I included mile 25 as one of the spots they should be, and I was really hoping they would be there … and they were! My parents and husband found my brother and his wife, and my cousin.

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My “arm warmers” in this pic are $5 over-the-knee socks from Target. In case you were wondering.

I realized at this point that I probably could have kept a slightly faster pace overall. My overall race pace was 11:17, but my last two miles were 10:44, 9:34 and the last .2 was an 8:34 pace. Considering how many people I passed who were walking … I was feeling really strong. Next time I can worry about a time goal. Today was just about proving I could cover the distance.

When I was done, I was just so ready to get through the finish line and into warm clothes (and sit down). I got my space blanket, medal, water, etc, and exited the finishers area, I had to make it back to the charity tent. Again … a mile away. I was cold, so that sucked a little bit. But I got back to my tent and found my family and friends (and got my bag from gear check … with my warm clothes).

And then it was time for pizza and beer (for Mom).

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The Sailor and I had to check out of our hotel room, so we didn’t hang out very long. We planned to take a cab back, but couldn’t find an available one, so we walked. I’m hopeful that all the post-race walking will mean a little less soreness tomorrow.

I’m kind of overwhelmed by all the support I’ve gotten through Facebook, Twitter, and this blog. I can’t believe so many people care, including my non-runner friends. But I think I like this comment from my sis-in-law (the one pictured in the brown jacket above) the best:

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Me … a marathoner. That is kind of crazy.

Overall, I had a blast today. I was so happy that my family and friends came out and supported me. I’m so proud of all of my other friends who ran their first marathon today. And I love Chicago, and I loved running through a zillion neighborhoods. I loved being able to run a major marathon in my sort-of backyard (I mean, let’s be honest, I live in the suburbs right now, I get called out if I say I live in Chicago). I loved running a race that has been around for so long (this year was the 35th anniversary) that my late uncle ran some of the very first Chicago Marathons, and today I could run in his honor.

Everyone was right … this race has so much energy! The entire course was almost continuous rows of people, cheering loudly with signs, or dancing, drumming, DJing, etc. For 26 miles. It was such an amazing day!

I can honestly say that enjoyed every single mile.

Goal = achieved.