Wednesday, November 23, 2011

First Marathon-Des Plaines River Trail Race

Is 4 weeks post-race too late to write a race report?  Too bad.  I’m doing it anyway. 
I’ve been interested in running a marathon.  I’m not exactly sure when that happened.  At some point I decided that this would be a year of “Firsts”.  A marathon, obviously, needed to be included.  And in reality, 26.2 didn’t even seem that far when you’re surrounded by ultra-runners who tackle 100 miles through the mountains and look to come back for more.  It seems so small in comparison.  And yet, for me it’s HUGE! 
Sometime after I completed my first triathlon (yep, another First!), I signed up to run the marathon distance of the Des Plaines River Trail Races.  They also have a half marathon and 50 mile distance.  The trail is a wide dirt/crushed gravel path that runs along the Des Plaines River north of Chicago.  I knew that staying away from concrete would keep my knees much happier when all was said and done.  Originally my mom was going to have another surgery that week before (she’s been battling breast cancer), so I wanted to be home around that time anyway.  My family all lives in a suburb of Chicago and they have so many races up there that I can usually find something whenever I’m home.  Unfortunately, a bout of shingles cancelled the surgery for that week, but in a more positive note, that freed her up to come out to my race. 
The Friday before my race I met some old friends from high school out for a drink (water in my case) and briefly met my sister a few blocks down to meet some of her friends.  Late night!  Christy was going to be going with me to the start of the race, so I made sure to give her a lot of crap when I caught her ordering her fourth “Jack and Diet”.  Aw man, she’s going to be a happy camper in the morning!  <evil chuckle>
Race morning, I woke up a few hours early to eat something and get all ready to go.  We had to drive about an hour to get to the race start.  I’m paranoid about being places on time so I had my schedule completely set.  On time is LATE!  Christy stumbled into my parents’ kitchen and groaned.  I snickered.  She told me I was crazy as we got in the car and drove north towards the river and my race. After my number was pinned on, my chip Velcro-ed at my ankle and my nutrition all stored on my body, we took a quickie nap in the car. 
There was frost covering every surface.  Each blade of grass and leaf was crusted over.  My breath billowed out thickly in front of me.  I knew it would warm up quickly, however, so I figured I’d be okay if I was cold for the first couple of miles.  I handed my jacket to Christy as I headed toward the start line.  I went straight for the back of the pack.  My strategy was to finish, not to get any specific time, so I didn’t want to get caught up in a fast start. 
When they blew the horn, I took off.  I was really careful to keep it slow.  And I mean SLOOOW!  Even the old, hunched over 80-year old man was passing me.  Okay, it’s really hard to stay slow when you’re getting passed by dudes 50 years older! 
The course is beautiful.  The trails run through the trees and along the Des Plaines River.  The trail also crosses the river a number of times so there are lots of wooden bridges spanning the water.  I was able to get into a comfortable race pace and just chug along.  I didn’t bring an iPod because I wanted to make sure I could fully experience my first marathon and not get lost in music.  I wanted to notice things even if it was unpleasant.  So, I ran.  I enjoyed the view.  I smiled and waved at all the other people that were using this beautiful trail.  There were lots of bikers but the path is wide and there is plenty of space for everyone.  They all had encouraging words for us racers.  I love friendly people!! 
The race is an out and back course.  The turn-around is actually a little past the halfway point because there is a small lollipop at the beginning.  As I was getting closer to the turn-around I got to see more people because they were all headed back towards me.  Some looked great and others looked in pain.  I was hoping I didn’t look to be in pain, yet.  As I headed back I started to pass a person here and there.  I was actually still feeling pretty good.  By this point, it was pretty warm, 60’s, and all the frost was long gone.  There were a few open sections through prairie and I was surprised to still see blooming wildflowers at the end of October in northern Illinois. 
So, everything was sunshine and daisies until I hit mile 22.  I’ve always heard people talk about “the Wall”.  For a lot of people it seems to almost be a physical point where their bodies just don’t want to keep going.  I think for me, it was purely mental.  My legs didn’t feel any worse than they did 3 miles ago.  Sure, my hips are getting a little sore and I’m tired, but I have no major pains or anything else physical to limit me.  Yep, it was that little voice inside my head telling me that 4 more miles seemed like an awful lot.  I told that little voice to “Shut up!” and kept chugging.  I think the thing that saved me along this last section was the amount of people I was passing.  There were guys who had flown by me early in the race and now they were bent over on the side of the trail.  Of course, I made sure they were okay before I kept going.  Each person ahead of me was a new little goal.  And once I’d passed someone, there was no way I wanted to let them catch back up!
I saw my dad just a little before the finish line.  I think he had planned to walk out on the trail a ways to get some pictures as I made my way in, but I was too fast for him!  Ha!  It was probably one of the most amazing sights for me to see. This man in jeans, a bright orange t-shirt and a cowboy hat also had a huge smile on his face and was yelling words of encouragement as I gave it all I had to sprint to the end.  I always love a good sprint to finish a run or race and I was really hoping I’d have enough left to do it here as well. 
I finished.  I got lots of big hugs from my mom, dad and sister.  My mom and sister even brought me flowers.  Someone put a medal around my neck and removed my chip, but I don’t know who.  I waddled around, took some pictures and Christy stretched me out (along with being a nurse, she’s a certified personal trainer). 
My family is not made up of runners.  They don’t really understand and they tend to think I’m bordering the “crazy” line.  With that being said, they are always proud of me for every accomplishment and I’m always flooded with encouragement and support.  I’m a lucky girl to be a Green. 
Time: 4:47:13  I placed 85th out of 124 in the marathon.  This also was good enough to give me an age group placing. 


  1. Awesome report Nicole!! 26.2 IS a long way and you raced it smart, smart, smart! It feels awesome to pass people at the end instead of getting passed... NICE JOB!!! Can't wait to read the next "first!"

  2. Nice Job Nicole! Thanks for sharing your experience! A trail marathon is definitely on my first list. Maybe next year! :) Congrats!