My Chicago Marathon Recap, or That Time Barre Got Me Across the Finish Line

I’ll be honest, when I entered the lottery for the Bank of Chicago Marathon six months ago, I’m not quite sure what I was thinking. I was recently engaged, planning an out-of-state wedding, working my marketing business full time (and then some), teaching barre 6 days/week and in the midst of a 200-hour yoga teacher training. To say I had limited free time is an understatement, but when my fiancé mentioned he was considering entering (his sisters live in Chicago), that’s all the motivation I needed – after all, yoga teacher training would be over by the time training got serious, I would need a new physical challenge, and clearly a marathon is the best way to fall back in love with running and get in wedding shape. Plus six months is SOOOO much time, right?

Boy, was I ever wrong. Spring turned to summer and with it my business picked up steadily with one of my clients growing into a second space and another putting on a major event at the end of August. I was running 5-6 miles a couple times a week, but hadn’t really put my “plan” in motion yet. Flash forward to July which brought a vacation to our wedding venue, engagement festivities, travel for a close friend’s bachelorette party, a work conference, oh and then accepting a new job in early August that required significant travel. “I’ll train as soon as xyz is over and when I’m back from ______” was running through my brain on repeat, until all of a sudden it was a month before the marathon and I found myself Googling “30 Day Marathon Training Plan.” At this point my longest run was the Charles Street 12-miler (THANK YOU, Charm City Run!); I’d done a couple of ten-milers, but that was it.

I promise I had the best of intentions, and am not delusional in thinking that running a marathon is something to be taken lightly – when I ran the Baltimore Marathon back in 2011 (my first), my inner nerd geeked out creating a custom training plan based off of Hal Higdon’s novice plan that incorporated my favorite yoga, spin, and BodyPump classes for cross-training. I traded in going out on Friday nights for sunrise runs from Federal Hill to Fells Point and back, and even logged a (painfully boring) 13.1 mi training run on a treadmill when a hurricane got in the way of my Saturday long run.  When I ran Marine Corps in 2013 (my second) an injury toward the end of my training kept me from getting my mileage past 18, but I was still running consistently and spent most Saturday mornings out at the NCR trail running with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training group. This time around, life just HAPPENED.

Two weeks before heading to Chicago I was contemplating deferring my race entry until next year. Could I really run a full marathon with such little training without seriously hurting myself? By this point I wasn’t thinking about time – I just wanted to finish safely, even if that meant run-walking. So, I decided to focus on the things that I COULD control at this point: I logged one last ditch effort 16 mile run, met with a nutritional/run coach, and made sure I was running at least 5 miles a few days a week in between my barre classes.

Luckily, a family wedding brought my fiancé and me to Chicago a week early and we were able to recover from the travel, log a few short runs, and focus on hydrating and eating clean with plenty of protein. We hit up the Expo the Saturday before race day, and suddenly the thoughts of “What the #$&@ am I doing?” turned to nervous excitement - I was already here, I was going to run my third marathon one way or another, and if these 40,000+ other people could do it, why couldn’t I?! 

Sunday came, and we were blessed with perfect running weather – low 60s, a slight breeze off the lake, and no chance of rain. I had signed up to run with the Nike pace group, thinking that would push me to keep going, and was planning to walk thru each and every water stop along the course. I ran with the Nike pace group until just after the half, realizing that just because my “normal” pace was around 8-8:15 minute miles, this wasn’t sustainable for 26.2 miles with my lack of training. Fortunately, Ryan’s family was at mile 14, and with them our puppy, which was just the push I needed to keep on!

Mile 16 was when the doubts really started setting in, and along with it, discomfort behind my left knee – “why didn’t I take training more seriously? Why was I even doing this to myself? Didn’t I say last time I would never do this again?” Most runners hit this “wall” around mile 20, since that’s what most plans recommend training up to, so it wasn’t surprising I was hitting it here at 16. I tried to focus on breathing, engaging my glutes (the coach I met with said, like many runners, I depended entirely on my thighs) and just putting one foot in front of the other. To be quite honest, I was tempted to crawl over to the sidelines, text Ryan’s family to find me, get a coffee and get to see Ryan’s strong finish, but I told myself if I could just get to mile 20, I could walk the rest.

Mile 20 came, I switched my music to a hip-hop playlist, and struggled on, mostly still running but taking my sweet time to walk through those water stops. At mile 22, right after this picture was taken, I really started to slow – like to the extent that I was texting as I hobbled along. I texted Jami & Kate (my BMOREtoned partners-in-crime), “Dying. What was I thinking?!” and Ryan’s sister who was on the course cheering, “I’m dying. Can you jump in for a couple miles?” Again, I know you’re thinking “with four miles left you were TEXTING? Just finish the damn thing!” but I was SO not concerned with time at this point, was really hurting, and just needed support. Thank goodness, Ryan’s sisters found me just after mile 24, ran by my side to mile 26, and I crossed the finish line – somehow, with a PR of 3:49:17. 

That being said, the moral of this story is certainly not “I didn’t train for my marathon, so you shouldn’t either!” – I would not recommend this to anyone, I had a MUCH more painful experience than my two previous races, and it took me over a week before even attempting physical activity. However, I was quite relieved to prove the point I’ve been preaching for the past two years: barre is an incredibly athletic workout that WILL make you stronger, faster, better at running, cycling, whatever your sport may be.

If you haven’t yet heard of this trend that’s been taking the boutique fitness scene by storm, barre is a low-impact workout that combines high reps of isometric movements using low-weight exercises to create a longer, leaner physique. While every studio has their own signature flair, most barre classes follow the same basic structure: warm-up, series of arm exercises targeting shoulders, biceps, triceps, and back, thigh work, glute work, and core. By focusing on isometric movements (aka pulsing, tucking, lifting or reaching in a one-inch range), barre classes help to isolate specific movements and allow you to do more reps using smaller weight, which helps to create endurance and strengthen muscles without straining ligaments or tendons.

Rest assured, while lower-body work is traditionally done in part standing at a fixed ballet barre, one does not need the grace of a dancer to reap the benefits of this challenging workout. More and more athletes, both male and female, are starting to incorporate barre-inspired movements into their training - in fact Michael Phelps has even been known to frequent a studio in Phoenix

If you’re in the Baltimore area, I challenge you to come see me at REV Cycle in Locust Point or M.Power Yoga studio in Brewer’s Hill and try it out! While I won’t TOTALLY credit barre for cutting my PR by 27 minutes – Chicago is a heck of a lot flatter course than Baltimore – I’m convinced its made me a faster, stronger runner and I will definitely be incorporating it into my training plan for the next one (and actually following said plan). 

About The Author: Annie Truax

Annie is a freelance marketing/PR consultant to local health & wellness companies and teaches barre at several Baltimore studios. Alongside two close friends she founded BMOREtoned, a lifestyle blog, and considers herself a fair-weather runner.