I am afraid of the cold. I am afraid of being cold. Extreme weather, either hot or cold, is not ideal on a typical day, but when asked my preference, nine times out of 10 I'm going to choose hot. I'm from Florida, and I don't like winter. On marathon day, however, I prefer colder. And, when I say "colder" I'm talking a balmy 60 degrees. 50 degrees at the NYC Marathon is bad enough.
It became very clear to me five days before the Chicago Marathon that the weather gods could care less about what I wanted. In fact, they like to mess with people like me, get people like me all freaked out so we'll spend more money at Niketown. Seven days before the race the forecast predicted highs in the mid-40's (that was the high!) with rain. Cold and rain. Five days before the race, the weather gods decided that cold and rain were not enough and added snow to the mix. Snow. I was a wreck. I like snow from my living room window, or in some romantic movie. I don't run in it. But, there was no backing out. A team of McGee's were flying to Chicago to see this race (and eat pizza), so I knew I was going to have to slog through, possibly literally, and I was going to have to figure out how.
Flying into rainy Chicago on Friday was not encouraging. By Saturday, though, the sun came out. It was cold, but it was sunny. Still terrified of not being properly dressed on race day, I anxiously asked the Nike saleslady (Nike set up a store in the official marathon hotel, the one we stayed at. Smart Nike. They made a bundle off me.) if they had 3/4 tights, recommended moments before by Abby, who I'd called in a panic. She lead me to the rack, and I picked up my size. No time to try them on. And, while I'm here I probably need some arm warmers, maybe another long sleeved shirt, and a head band. Can't leave without a head band.
The only thing that I thought maybe the cold would encourage was a 4:00:00 run from me. I was hoping to break my personal record of 4:04. If I matched it, great. If I came in slower...not so great. I knew I'd be comfortable with a time between 4:00 - 4:04. I also knew training hadn't gone so well for me this year. If my half marathon times were any indication of how I might do, well, I wasn't going to be breaking any records.
Geared up for some winter running, I was relieved to wake up on Sunday and see the sunny forecast. Not so thrilling was the 29 degrees / high of 44 flashing on the television.
I got to my corral by 7:15. Most people around me were in layers, but there were those tough running animals dressed in tank tops and shorts. Right before the start I started seeing clothes fly through the air. Unlike NY where racers gently remove their layers and throw them on the Verrazano Narrows, Chicago runners send theirs flying, like throwing caps at a high school graduation. I got hit in the face with a rather nice sweat shirt, which I considered keeping and giving to Kirk at mile 2. I had my own clothes to worry about, however, including my sweatpants, the ones I'd had since grad school. I knew we were about to say goodbye. I couldn't carry them with me -- I had a jacket and a long sleeved shirt to pass off -- so I had to make the decision to leave them at the starting line. Instead of throwing them, though, I placed them neatly along the side lines, hoping they'd end up with a nice woman, who'd want a comfortable pair of sweats to wear around her house.
The horn blared signaling the start of the race. As I started running I felt cold, but it wasn't unbearable. And, as the race went on (and on and on) I never got completely warm, but the cold was not my enemy and I was able, by mile 13, to kind of enjoy it. I high-fived little kids and big kids. I stopped for water, even walked through some of the water stops. I thanked the volunteers, who stood in front of the tables with cups of gatorade in their hands so we runners wouldn't have a mash up. I saw the city, the truly gorgeous, clean, well manicured city I remember from my childhood. And, I stopped thinking about breaking any records.
The cold did not help me run any faster, as you can see by my time, but it was a very beautiful day, and when I crossed the finish line 15 minutes slower than I'd wanted, I could see it had reached 44 degrees. Still not in my comfort zone, but a hell of a lot better than where I'd started.