Chicago Marathon {Race Recap}

I finished.

And it feels so good to be able to type that.


Things didn’t go as hoped/planned and if you follow me on Instagram and/or Facebook, then you already know what happened.

People have been asking me how I feel and I’ve been saying Fine, Good, Happy (that I finished) but if I’m to be completely honest, and I’m always honest here, I’m angry.

I’m angry that my body just didn’t want to cooperate. My mind and my heart were there, willing to fight, but my legs weren’t.

I stuck to my plan of starting with the 4:25 pace group (about a 10:05/mile) thinking this would be the smartest way to go. My ultimate goal was a sub 4:30 and I wasn’t going to get risky by trying to attempt anything faster than that. My long runs had all been around the 4:25 pace and I felt this was “safest”.

It’s impossible to get comfortable the first mile or so in a race so big and that’s understandable. My watch had gone wonky after passing the first tunnel and mile two told me I’d run a 7 something mile (ja!) way before I reached mile two. I saw that my watch would not be a good go-to for assessing mile splits and there was no way I would be attempting any math. I ended up just turning it off (and then turning it back on at mile 6 figuring I could do math now that I would have an even 20 miles to count from). In retrospect, I should’ve left it on from the beginning to at least have the running time. You live and you learn.

At mile 4 though, my legs began tightening and by mile 8 that turned into full on cramping. I begin cursing and told myself there was no way I was walking now, so early.

I made it to mile 14.

At mile 14 I watched the 4:25 pace group go and I was so angry because I should’ve been there with them, running.

But the cramps had become debilitating and they were everywhere. My quads, my hamstrings, my calves, my shins, the bottoms of my feet, my toes. I’m not kidding when I say my entire legs were cramping.


I had done everything just as I’d trained. Fueled every 5 miles, salt tabs at miles 4, 11, and 17, water at every station.

I walked for a bit at mile 14 and told myself to shake it out and keep going. I would only walk when the cramps were unbearable.

From then on, it was me running from cramp to cramp. When they became excruciating, when I could feel the balls of crampage against my skin (they left me bruises), I would walk–not for too long, and then keep going.

Not a single tear was shed.

Because it wasn’t sadness that I was feeling. It was anger. I was angry I wasn’t running the race I trained for. I was angry I couldn’t race how I’d like for all those who were cheering me on. I was angry that I wanted to so badly run and my legs wouldn’t let me.

It was this anger that kept me going. It was this anger that kept this race from being a total disaster–because even though I didn’t get the time I wanted, it could’ve been much, much worse. I’m not reflecting on this race as a loss or a let down; in fact, this was a race where I proved my mental strength has grown. I finished in 4:45:08, less than a minute from my marathon PR.

Any other time, I think, I would’ve cried, pulled over to the side, walked a lot more, maybe even given up because of how awful I felt and how upset I was at was happening to me.

But the whole time I kept thinking how this race wasn’t about me, it was about my buddy Graisyn who I Run 4, whose family stay at a Ronald McDonald House when he goes to hospitals. This race was about the people who donated, who helped me get to Chicago in the first place–that without them, I wouldn’t have been able to even get to the start line. This race was about my husband, who was running his very first marathon.

This race wasn’t about me at all.

And the anger I felt inside wasn’t going to let those people down.

So I kept going.

It hurt. A lot. My legs were battling me, testing all my strength. I saw the 4:30 pace group pass me around mile 18. I didn’t cry.


Mile 20 came and I ran through Pilsen, Chicago’s Latin community, and they all helped me push through the next two miles. I felt a deep sense of comfort being around people like me, whose language I understood, whose cheers I felt were so heartfelt–“Animo!” My legs were trying to stop me from enjoying this neighborhood, but I didn’t let them.

The last 4 miles were awful. I passed through Chinatown and soon after saw mile 24. Two miles left. I knew my husband would be waiting for me and that kept me going. Mile 25 seemed like eternity. I wanted to run the entire last mile, but couldn’t. My legs won that time. I turned a corner and saw a sign that said, 400m left! There was no way I would walk across the finish line. No way.

Limping, dragging my legs (by this point they were shaking), I hobbled across.


And I finished.


Thank you all SO much for your support throughout this entire training. Wow. I’m completely overwhelmed by your love–it’s part of what keeps me going. And I’m going to keep on going 😀 I’ll be sharing more Chicago marathon memories with you in the next couple of days; I just really wanted to get my race thoughts down first.

❤ you all,


–Ever experienced insane cramping?

–How ’bout them race photos, eh? Ever had the camera catch you in pain?

69 responses

  1. Gosh I am so sorry to hear about your cramping issues. I’ve not had THIS issue, but have experience tummy cramping and knee pain so can empathize. My first marathon was Chicago 2012, and the photos caught in those last miles captured my pain truly! GREAT job not giving up…xoxo

  2. Congratulations on finishing and all your hard work, Helly! Seems like the actual races never turn out how you want them, but man it sounds like you seriously pushed through this one! I’m inspired by your courage 🙂

  3. Your story sounds like mine and so many of the other runners who ran on Sunday! Mile 14. That’s when my A plan started to unravel. Mile 16, I went to plan B. There was a lot of run/walking for the rest of the race. But like you, I finished! I’m not angry because I didn’t ever quit. You didn’t either. That was a tough day–starting out so cool and then warming up like it day.


    • Totally. I knew I didn’t want to quit or pull off to the side and stop completely. I tried to just keep going, however slow. Finishing really did help me as far as allowing me to see the positives of the race–I was able to really test my mental strength. I never felt that I was putting myself in danger as far as causing an injury; I knew they were cramps and I just had try as hard as I could to just keep moving. And I actually thought it was nice weather, LOL. Coming from Arizona, it was cool. Oh well, I just won’t know exactly what it was.
      Congrats to you as well!!

  4. Ah, Helly, the marathon is tough. You can do everything you train for and random stuff happens to derail. With so many miles, you need luck on your side too. Don’t worry, Mamacita, you’ll get the marathon that you trained for one of these days. And I’m super impressed that you ran on despite the cramps. I would have cried and stopped.

    Helly runs like a llama!!!

    • Thank you so much Judith. And you’re so right. I feel like mental strength was something I lacked and this race really helped me channel it and prove to myself that I can push through. Hopefully, I don’t have to go through something like this again, lol, but if I do, I know I can do it. Looking forward to continuing to follow your journey! xoxo

  5. I love what Judith wrote about mental toughness, because it’s SO TRUE. I always say that marathoning is 90% mental and 10% physical training. Chicago just set you up for the marathon of your life, when you’re ready for it. Finishing with cramping like that just shows how strong you are. I am so impressed, and so inspired by you, as always.

  6. I’m so sorry you didn’t have the race that you had hoped for. But believe me, you weren’t alone. I coached 150+ athletes on Sunday and I would say almost 50% complained of having horrible cramping. Crazy! I know it is so frustrating, but your finish makes you a marathoner in the truest sense. You pushed through and finished. You are awesome!

      • I know. I was so hoping to meet you. The weekend turned into a whirlwind. I was thinking today that Sunday was so long and exhausting that Rock and I were almost in a state of comas. Thank goodness my parents were there to help.

  7. I’m sorry you didn’t have the race you were trained for. So much can happen over the course of a training cycle and then to come together for those 26.2 miles. You should be so proud of yourself for pushing through and finishing!

  8. I am really sorry that you experienced so much cramping during this race, but I am inspired by the fact that you kept on going to the finish. I hope the rest of your weekend was amazing!

    • Thank you Kristina. I’m super sad we couldn’t make a meet-up happen, especially since we were in the same hotel! But you saw the craziness that was there and after the marathon, I was curled up in a ball the rest of the day, lol

  9. Congrats on finishing through all that pain. That’s such a long time to be experiencing those cramps. I may know how you feel. Last year for Marine Corps I was all set (based on training) to run the low 4’s but then was massive leg cramping very early. At one point I had to stop because my full legs, top to bottom, seized up in front of the Capitol building. I ended up running it 25-30 minutes slower than any predictions I had based on my training. The only thing I could come up with was did I drink too much water? Not enough salt vs water? I drank as much as I did in training but I train in south Florida and this was a cold day in DC. So everything I did was perfect – for a training run in soflo. Not sure if this helps but I wanted to share because I had one of those crazy experiences where “This isn’t supposed to happen because I did the work and I was smart about everything!!” only it didn’t work out that way.

    You’re perspective is great though! Thank you so much for raising money and support for the Ronald McDonald House. The RMHC has helped me and my family so much and I am forever grateful to all those who, like yourself, help make it possible for people in their darkest times.

  10. Oh my goodness that race sounded so tough! I would not have been as positive as you – I definitely would have stopped and cried. You are such a strong person and runner! Congrats on powering through and finishing fast – even with all of that pain! I’m hoping that you’re feeling better now!

  11. Geez louise. I had no idea it was so bad! I am so incredibly sorry to hear this, but I am so freaking proud of you. You showed the true heart of a marathoner right there. I don’t know if you could have been dealt a harder hand–your body was actually fighting you tooth and nail.
    Oh, honey, I want to throw my arms around you. You are every bit a champion.

  12. This broke my heart to read, and mostly because I know that anger all too well. I felt it in my own race this weekend, and I’ve pretty much felt it in all of my marathons in 2015. It just flat out SUCKS. You put in the work – you put your heart and soul into training, raising money, and preparing and it wasn’t your day. I know that feeling. I am so sorry it happened to you. But one thing you said – you let NO ONE down. You ran a freaking marathon. Doesn’t matter if you finish in 2:30 or 6:30 – everyone ran the same distance that day. You not only ran an AMAZING marathon – you also raised money to help someone. That is a true hero. And, you look really pretty in your race pictures! I am envious – I normally look like I’m about to keel over. So you raised all of that money and then ran a 4:45 while feeling like absolute shit, in a different climate than you are used to and looking hot while doing it = #winning! You rock, sister!

    • Exactly, it flat out sucks. I wanted to do well so bad and when I couldn’t, it was just so frustrating. It looks like we’ve had a similar year 😦 (although, I still think you’ve done amazing!! Perspective, right? lol!)

      And thank you! I think I look pretty miserable in the race pics jaja!! I may have been really happy to have been done after the race and that could be why those are decent, lol!!!

  13. I knew you didn’t have the race you wanted and trained so hard for but reading this recap brought me to tears. I didn’t realize just how bad it was and I am sorry. However, your attitude is what defines you in a situation like this and you are a FREAKING ROCKSTAR HELLY and I admire you! ❤

  14. You are such a bright light of inspiration, Helly! I’m so sorry the race didn’t go according to plan, but I think every race you’ve run you’ve learned something amazing. This one, you learned just how strong you could be and girl – you are tough as nails!! You are a trooper and I’m so freakin proud of you and your race. I don’t know that I could run the majority of a marathon with serious cramping. I don’t know how you did it, but I know that everyone you ran for is so proud and happy for you. Major congrats to you and your hubby! xoxo

  15. I am so, so sorry you had such a disappointing experience. But we are all SO proud of you for continuing in spite of the pain. I had some pretty awful cramps during the Spartan Sprint I did a few weeks ago, so I know exactly how painful that must have been. You did an amazing job of pushing through and keeping it about the charity you were running for. Congratulations!

  16. You are a badass. I’ve been there before where I’ve trained for months for a race only to have it fall apart on race day. Way to use it as motivation to keep going. You are strong! Anyone else would’ve given up. You are strong! Bummer the salt sticks didn’t help more with the cramps. Remember what I told you in the Chicago bar after the race about the mustard packets – maybe carry some with you on your next training runs and see if that helps. Sounds gross, but it really did help me this summer when I was cramping bad on a 20 miler.
    Can’t wait to read the rest of your reports. And again, it was amazing meeting and hanging out with you!!!

  17. I cramped SO badly during my first marathon, and I’m worried it will happen again in December. I’m hoping I’ll be mentally tough enough to walk a bit less than I did last time if it happens.

    I know how it feels to be angry because your body should KNOW better. It should ready to perform! And I think that’s such a big lesson: sometimes race day is a fluke. You put a ton of excellent training into your body, and you deserved a great race. It sucks that it didn’t pan out as you wanted. BUT…the training is what makes us strong. The race is a victory lap; the training is the challenge.

    I’m sorry this wasn’t what you wanted from Chicago, but I’m glad you kept your Run 4 buddy in mind and finished strong!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! You nailed. I was so angry because I trained so hard and my body should’ve done what it trained to do. And it didn’t. 😦 Oh well, on to the next one! 🙂 You’re going to do great in December!

  18. Wow Helly I am so sorry this happened to you! 😦 This was definitely not the race you trained for. One of the reasons I am scared to race more often is that any given day something could happen out of my control and I don’t reach my goal. I know what sounds dumb but that fear holds me back from racing more!

    Have you ever experienced cramping like this before? Any idea why it happened? I have had the lactic acid build up in my quads before but no cramping. Usually the cramping comes after I STOP running. I think “as soon as I get to the finish line I will feel good” but in reality it is WORSE when I stop haha.

    I hope you are resting, got some TLC, maybe even a massage!

    • Totally understand about that fear and that’s something I’ve been working on (and my coach for this last marathon worked on with me) is getting over my fear of failing and just going! I’m still working on it, lol!

      Yes, cramps have happened on ALL my marathons 😦 I don’t know why. Doesn’t happen on my training runs and I never go out too fast or do anything different on race day. It’s just something about the marathon. Halfs, 10ks, 5ks, I’m good. 😦

  19. Congratulations for pushing through when you were having such a tough race…I’ve been there and it sucks…I’ve also watched my goal time slip away in previous marathons, but awesome job on making it to the finish and staying strong. Congrats to your husband too on his first marathon! Love reading these race recaps and experiences from Chicago – I just posted my own summary today…look forward to reading more of your posts.

  20. I was cramping so bad I had to stop on the last hill before the finish. it’s good you found a positive from the race even tough it didn’t go as you planned. awesome job for finishing. best of luck in your next race!

  21. My eyes welled with tears throughout this post. I felt your anger but also your strong will, determination and inspiration for this run. Your entire training cycle was amazing!! They say the journey is the reward. So proud of you for finishing with a big smile on your face and even prouder for what you did for Team RMHC!!!!!

  22. Anger is 100% understandable! Having a bad race anytime sucks, but when you can’t figure out why, & you’ve done everything as planned, it’s just unbelievable. I’m so sorry you didn’t get the race you trained for, I know you’re long overdue for a marathon PR.
    But I’m glad you had other reasons to keep you moving along. 1 min off your PR on full leg cramps is still impressive! Fingers cross your next marathon is the one!

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  24. Oh girl, I’m sorry I’m so late reading this!! I totally know exactly where you are coming from. I had that horrible cramping last year at MCM when I met you! I feel like we had very similar races mentally this year. It was tough and we both had to dig deep, but you crossed that finish line!! Congrats! And you are right you were running for something way bigger than you are, and sometimes that is just what you need to keep you pushing! So proud of you!! congrats!!

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