Fox Valley Marathon (Err, Fall Final 20) Race Report

NOTE: I dated this post back to when I originally wrote it and emailed it out to friends (9/20/2021). Original publishing date on is 8/6/2022.

TL;DR Haiku Summary:

A long race to run
Shrunk by the powers that be
A hard won finish
Truth be told, I was planning on this race for a while.  I kept it mostly quiet because I didn’t want to deal with folks trying to talk me out of it.  Going into the weekend we heard from the race that it was expected to be hot and that we should expect it to be red flagged and possibly black flagged.  As this would be my first marathon, this set off a flurry of conflict in me.  On top of that, it’s part of a 3 race challenge in the Chicago area, and I need to be a finisher of the weekend in order to qualify for the challenge.  I had a few options, but after a lot of thought, and reaching out to others I ultimately decided to just go, try for the full and see.  So, with that let’s go:  

Night before:  Pre-race jitters, I struggled hard to get to sleep.  Took a xanax, that helped.  Prep night before paid off, and I was able to get up, do my morning routine and go.  Got to race, parked, all good.

Planned Race:  Fox Valley Marathon

Planned Time:  Finish, expected 4:30

Start Temp:  59

Being in the starting corral was exciting!  I have run a few races now, but nothing of this size (~1,500 runners).  Horn blew, and started well.  I find that I generally am miserable for the first mile, and it’s really not until mile 3 or 4 where I start feeling good, that happened here too.  First few miles had a lot of turns and some hills (you western folks would probably call it flat).  End of mile 4 there was a really weird turn around in a church parking lot for an aid station.  After that, from mile 4 til mile 12 it was a really great race.  I was in the shade, I was running well, my hydration was good.  Smooth sailing.

Now, during this time, I was running a little fast, but I felt comfortable.  I did not feel like I was running fast, but when I got my lap times I saw it.  Particularly when I saw the 9:11 mile I definitely tried to ease it up a bit.  This was a challenge for me – because, again, I did not feel like I was going hard.  I felt comfortable, but my HR and my pace were saying something different.  Race adrenaline maybe?  

Somewhere around 11 1/2 miles we hit a wall of volunteers with a message:  The Race Directors are shortening the race because it’s too hot, everyone is now on the 20 mile race.

Temp at Diversion:  75

This was a huge mental blow for me.  For the next mile I was so bummed.  I had planned to run 26.2, it’s taken away.  It easily took me 10-15 minutes to get my head back in it.  I wasn’t even mad.  I knew it was a possibility.  I knew 26.2 was more than the training plan anyways.  But I was in the headspace to run the whole thing and now that just wasn’t going to happen.  

That was the hand that was dealt.  Just. Keep. Moving.

Miles 11.5-15 were ok.  The increasing temp was definitely starting to have an effect.  About now I was starting to slow down closer to where I actually expected to be, around 10:20 miles.  Still cruising, no issues.

And then we hit the 15 mile mark, lost most of our shade and the temp really started to spike.  These last five mile would prove to be excruciating.  There was just so little canopy and not an ounce of cloud cover to shield us from the sun.  Of the last 5 miles, I probably walked about 1 mile of it.  And what I did run was slow.  Shade was so sparse I really wasn’t sure what to do.  I ended up running the sunny sections to get through them quicker (and because there were just more of them) and walked the shady bits to try and cool down more.  Tossed what water I had on my head and kept moving.  

The final 1.2 miles was hell.  Most of the run was on the riverside trail.  So even in the last few where it was sunny, at least there were spots where you could get shade.  The last 1.2 was all on the street.  No shade.  Just a big blacktop bouncing heat back up on you.  I wanted to run out the last mile.  But it just wasn’t doable.  At .5 to go I could see the finish line.  There was a little hump to get over, and I said to myself, “I’m going to get to the top of that hump and then run it out, no matter what.”  Hit the hump, started running.  With .2 to go was the final turn to go over the bridge to the finish line.  I summoned everything I had left and sprinted as much as I could through the finish.

That last .2 miles was definitely something more that I’ve not experienced before.  Before yesterday the longest race I’ve done was a half, and I have run 20 in training before, but I’ve never raced this distance, even if I wasn’t really racing.  This proved to be very emotional for me.  I crossed the line, got my finisher medal (which I have to modify because I didn’t finish the marathon), struggled to get a banana down and some water and gatorade, found a shady bit and had a good cry for a minute.  If you had told me a year ago I’d be able to do this, I’d have laughed.  “I can barely run a mile without dying, maybe one day.”  

I can point to a number of things that have helped motivate me to do this.  Being healthy for my family, support from all of you, the folks at Mediocre Amateur, my running club, the folks at Ten Junk Miles, but something I learned out there in the hardest part of the race was this:  all the external motivation in the world doesn’t matter one bit when you are out there on your own and you need to dig deep to find the strength to keep moving.  And I think that’s why this meant so much to me.  When I passed that last aid station I didn’t stop.  I kept going, not for anyone else, but because I wanted to do this.  I wanted to prove to myself I could do hard things.  And I did.

The big bummer was my family had planned to be at the finish, and with the change in distance they ended up missing me cross.  They got there probably a half hour after I finished, and at least Izzy didn’t care that I was a sweaty, vaseline covered mess 🙂

Race actually ran:  Fox Valley Fall Final 20

11 Mile split:  1:53:07, 09:45 min/mi

Finish:  3:27:49, 10:24 min/mi

Finish Temp:  84


Could I have gone another 6.2 yesterday?  I would have tried if they let me.  I do think it really would have depended on how much shade there was for the rest of the trail down to the marathon turn around.  The rest of the run was along the same side of the river and it was pretty shaded, so maybe?  Would it have been smart?  Maybe not 🙂  Either way, I did really appreciate the way the race diverted us to the 20 mile race instead of just black flagging us at some point along the route.  That was really nice.

I can say that as long as fall arrives and on 10/10 it’s actually a reasonable temperature, I am very confident I will finish the Chicago Marathon and finish strong.  My glutes are a bit sore today, but overall I feel pretty good.  While I struggled in the last few miles, I do not think it was the dreaded Wall.  I felt like I had more than enough fuel, my body was just so hot at that point in time I had to slow down or risk heat stroke. In fact, my body was radiating heat enough that Erica was pointing it out well into the evening many hours after the race.

I have 3 weeks of taper ahead of me.  I wore my hydration pack and carried 1.2L of fluid on me yesterday, which I will not do at Chicago, largely because it’s prohibited, but they also have a whopping 20 aid stations, so I shouldn’t need it.  I wasn’t super happy with my shoes, but at this stage I’m not really willing to risk trying anything new before Chicago.  They did fine for me up until now, but my training has been largely on crushed limestone and this was all paved.  They got me through and I think it’ll be ok for Chicago, but I might be looking for something different before Disney.

I really only have one more long run before Chicago, this Sunday (12 miles), so if there’s anything else I should fiddle with I need to do it then.  

If you’ve read this far, thanks for taking an interest!  I certainly had a lot of thoughts about this run, and it’s been great chatting with folks about it.  One of my hopes of this race was that it would take a little bit of pressure off of Chicago because I’d have broken the mystique of the marathon distance, but what can you do right?  Just. Keep. Moving.

Best:  Guy dressed as Gene Frenkle (Will Ferrell) from the more Cowbell sketch who showed up multiple times along the route with his cowbell.  Dude killed it.

Worst:  No shocker here:  The Sun – stupid good for nothing sun :p

UPDATE: 8/6/2022: At the time, and for a while after the race, I considered this race a finish of the 20 mile race. The marathon was called and not finishing it had nothing to do with me. As I’ve raced more, and grown as a runner over the past year I really have come to accept this as what it is: a marathon DNF. The race is gracious enough to still consider me and everyone else like me a finisher of the 20 mile, but in my own mind, it just doesn’t sit right. I didn’t leave the start line with the intention of running 20, I intended to do 26.2, and I didn’t. This isn’t about beating myself up about it, rather it’s about accepting the reality of a failure, finding the good in it, and learning. I think there’s a fine line between finding the silver lining in a failure and reframing a failure as a success, and perhaps, we sometimes too often do the latter.