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2017 Chicago Marathon – 3:32:28

Chicago Marathon number three and my twelfth marathon overall!

Let me just say off the bat, I have weird mixed feelings about this race. It’s hard to complain about a 3:32 finish and a BQ, but I’m not exactly thrilled with how I got there.

But before I get into the race itself…

Pre-race

Danielle and I got to Chicago in the early afternoon on Thursday and, for the most part, I didn’t want to spend too much time on my feet, but Thursday and Friday ended up being bit more walking around than planned.

We went to the expo late morning on Friday after a short three-mile run around Grant Park and the Lakefront Trail (side note: on this run, we passed Matt Centrowitz, Paula Radcliffe, and Noah Droddy). The expo was busy and crowded already, but nothing like what I’m sure it became later on. Expos for big races are always hell for people like us who don’t like crowds…or even other people.

Look, it wasn’t my best finish, okay? 🙃 #ChicagoMarathon

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After getting my bib and shirt, we did a lap around the whole thing, took a couple pictures, met up with my friend Heather, had a sample of Goose Island Old Man Grumpy—which was delicious—and got the heck outta there. Dinner that night was a big messy burger from RJ Grunts with the always wonderful Parker Molloy and Kayla Pekkala. Sadly, I still have not met Meatball.

Hanging with Heather.

Saturday was a really easy and relaxed day. I did a two-mile shakeout run and not much else. Dinner was the standard never-ending bowl of spaghetti at Dolce Italian. Yum!

Typically, in the week before a non-Disney World marathon, I don’t drink any alcohol, but this time around I had a beer Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I mean…whatever. Beer is good. And carbs.

Good can!

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Flat Amy for #ChicagoMarathon tomorrow. For those cheering, there’s a 50/50 chance I toss the tank by mile three

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Race morning

I woke at around 5:15am for the 7:30 start. This gave me plenty of time to get ready and eat something—a crappy bagel from Starbucks and half an apple—without being rushed. Our hotel was in the Central Loop so we were close to the start which made for a nice quick walk over. I think I headed out around 6:15 and was through security by 6:30. Because I was a bit early, I had a short porta potty line. I was in the corral by 7, I think.

Nice sunrise over Lake Michigan.

Once things started filling up, I looked for the 3:30 pacers so I could start with them. I didn’t necessarily plan on staying with them, but I wanted to start with them. Because my goal was a 3:35 for the day, based on my training, I would have preferred to start with that group, but they were in the D corral, one behind me. The 3:30 pacers wanted to try to wait for the D corral’s 3:30 group so they could run together; they set up shop in the very back of the C corral and I figured I’d hang back there with them.

Pretty empty when I got in.

When the race started, however, things got a little busy and I went without them. Off on my own! Considering my best races recently have been run without any time with pacers, it wasn’t a big deal to me. I was just afraid of starting out too fast.

The first half

Right from the start, I took off too fast and I knew it. I could feel myself running faster than I should have been, but it was a comfortable rhythm and I just couldn’t get myself out of it. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep it, but my legs weren’t slowing down. In hindsight, I should have tried harder to slow down. Mistakes were being made and I knew it. My first mile was a 7:52, which was at least 10 seconds faster than I should have been.

Had my training been faster, this is about where I would have wanted to be. 16 weeks ago, my goal was to be able to average a 7:50-7:45, but my training didn’t end up being for that. Miles two and three were 7:52 and 7:51 so I was really locked in at exactly that pace.

Around the second mile marker, I took off my tank top to run in just my sports bra. It wasn’t super warm yet, but I was already sweating a lot and I knew the temperature would be going up into the mid 70s. I also knew I’d be seeing Danielle around the next turn and I wanted to be able to toss my shirt to her without having to hold it until the next time I saw her at 20k.

Around mile four, I heard a voice screaming over all the others in the crowd, but it took me a few seconds to realize it was my name being yelled. Before I even turned my heard, I knew that loud and obnoxious voice was none other than Lauren Bailey.

As the course continued up into Lincoln Park, I was contemplating what my legs might have for the rest of the day. I knew I wasn’t slowing down so I decided to just embrace the race I started and see what happened. I was lapping my watch manually at each mile marker so I knew my exact pace. Though, I somehow missed the 9th marker which meant I had to wait until 11 for an exact split.

My main concern in the first 10k was that I couldn’t get my glutes or hamstrings to activate. I’ve always been a completely quad-dominant runner, but this was something I’ve been working on all year and was a big focus in my physical therapy sessions. I actually had a lot of success in improving this and, honestly, credit learning to activate my glutes and hamstrings for much of my solid racing through spring and summer. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t do it this day.

My 5k paces through the first half were 7:52, 7:49, 7:51, and 7:51 with a half time of 1:42:50 (7:56 average). How’s that for consistent? Running an even effort is rarely a problem for me in the marathon and with Chicago being so flat that meant even splits as well.

Blurry Amelia at 20k.

I was taking water at about two-thirds of the water stops and only had one of my gels. I’ve been taking fewer gels during marathons recently than I used to and it seems to work out for me so I just took this one around mile six.

The second half

As we came around Willis Tower and crossed the halfway point, I was still feeling okay physically, but I could tell my body was going to be fatiguing faster than I hoped. Over the next few miles, I passed a few people cheering who yelled my name, but I couldn’t catch who they were. I later found out one of them was my coworker Malicia who was out there to support her fiancé.

By 15 or 16, some fatigue was starting to set in, but I hadn’t slowed yet. I wasn’t feeling a lack of energy, just my legs starting to tire. I popped my second gel and started with the mental tricks to try to preemptively keep myself strong. I focused on getting to Cowbell Corner at mile 17 and then the 30k mark.

30k was right on the money at 7:51 average, again. I was actually impressed with myself that I was running this consistent.

Unfortunately, that’s when the wheels started to fall off. I wasn’t surprised it happened, but I thought I’d have until at least 20 miles before I started falling apart. When it happens at 18.5 miles, it’s a long way to go until that finish line. I’ve done enough marathons now to know how to fight through to the finish, but I also knew to kiss that three-minute PR I was on track for goodbye.

I haven’t really mentioned much about the weather yet, but it was a warm day—low of 57, high in the mid-70s—and sunny with a ~10mph breeze. The breeze felt great in those temps. I’d like to blame the heat for my bonking, but I can’t. It was a non-issue for me. I was taking water and staying hydrated and, for someone who runs about my time, you can find a lot of shade on the course. I spent very little time having to run in the sun. I was worried about the temperature before the race, but it just wasn’t a problem for me. Unfortunately, I don’t think this was the case for a lot of other runners.

My 35k split was an average of 8:20. I had slowed a lot. By mile 20, I was walking through water stops. And once I start having to take walk breaks, I’m screwed. I never recover from that.

I started making deals with myself, “okay, no more walk breaks until the next mile” and things like that. I was struggling. My quads where shot. I still hadn’t been able to activate my glutes or hamstrings and I was paying for it now. At 40k, my splits had slowed to a 9:21 average. I was taking a lot of walk breaks.

It sucked. But I still had a smile on my face. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I love the marathon. I think having races that are tough makes me love it even more.

Knowing the course, I knew what was left and just kept focusing on getting to the finish line. For the last 2.2k, I was able to do fewer walk breaks and pick my pace up a bit from where it was the previous few miles, but I was really ready to be done.

I looked out for the 800m to go sign and felt a little relief when I knew I was in the last half mile. As I climbed that stupid hill just as you’re hitting mile 26, I was so thankful the finish line was around the next turn.

I crossed with a 3:32:28 and was thrilled to be done and ready for my post-race beers.

Salt Face Amy.

Thoughts

While I was nearly four minutes from my PR, I ran a little faster overall than expected. I’m happy with my time—you really can’t complain about a 3:32 and a BQ. But I’m not happy with how I got there. Mistakes were made from the start and I paid for them. I knew I was making them and I’m disappointed in myself for making them anyway. I haven’t made this mistake in a marathon in a long time. I know better than this. And, to be honest, it was only my quads that bonked. My lungs, energy level, hydration, GI, and the rest of my legs were all fine.

Not only did the second half of this race suck, but it breaks a streak of five straight marathon negative splits. That’s probably one of my proudest things about my running, is having negative split five marathons in a row…until this race. But…it happens. I knew I had a decent streak of good marathons and was due for a rough one. They can’t all be winners.

26.2 miles, 2 beers, and nothing but smiles. #ChicagoMarathon

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Despite not being happy with my execution, I wasn’t really the least bit disappointed after the race. I love the marathon and I love this city and Chicago Marathon and I still had a good time (both in terms of finish time and having fun!). I had a smile on my face at the finish and all day after.

Races like this remind me how much I love the marathon.

I got beaned. #ChicagoMarathon

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Beeeeeer.

The obligatory post-race Beaning.

7

The case of 2016

I’ve been putting off writing this all month, partially because I’ve been lazy and depressed since the election, but mostly because thinking about 2016 makes me feel weird and guilty. 2016 has been an awful hell year in almost every way imaginable. We lost celebrities and public figures who have inspired us and changed our lives. We lost scientific figures who made important discoveries. We elected Donald Trump as our next President after the worst election year pretty much any of us have been a live to see. North Carolina passed HB2. 2016 was a long year of terrible things and you couldn’t close your eyes for a second without something else terrible happening.

While all of this was happening in the world, 2016 was busy being one of the biggest years of my life, if not the biggest. I don’t know that I’d call it the best because it wasn’t at all easy, but it was certainly the most eventful and pivotal.

2016 started off with my first Dopey Challenge in Disney World. I’d previously done the Goofy Challenge three times so while it was just adding a 5k and 10k to the back-to-back half marathon and marathon weekend I’ve done before, it was still a fun challenge. Of the four Disney World marathons I’ve done, I think this one might have been the most fun. It was also my fastest time, not that I’ve ever raced a Disney marathon for time. Overall, how well this race went was a nice surprise considering it was following up a rough year of running in 2015.

Disney Marathon!

Look at all these medals!

Look at all these medals!

Not even three weeks after the Dopey Challenge, I underwent genital reconstruction surgery (or SRS or GCS or GRS or bottom surgery or any other of the dozens of terms trans people can’t agree on to call this surgery). This is a major surgery and I don’t think I could possibly overstate anything about how big of a deal it was. Of everything in my 33 years on this planet, the only thing more life-changing than this was transitioning itself. This was physically painful in ways I can’t describe and terrifying beyond anything else I’ve ever experienced.

About 90 minutes after waking up from surgery

While 11 months later, the swelling still hasn’t fully gone down, this surgery has already had a profoundly positive effect on my life. Recovery was hell and there were major points of depression and borderline regret for a while as I dealt with large amounts of granulation, but I couldn’t be happier with my decision. My body feels more like mine than it ever has before. My gender dysphoria isn’t gone entirely, but it has been greatly reduced. In addition to how it’s made me feel, it’s also made life easier in many regards. The simple act of picking out clothes to wear and getting dressed no longer requires thinking about how to hide my junk. I can put on running tights or wear leggings as pants without worry. My jeans fit better. I can wear a fucking bathing suit without epic levels of stress.

Of course, most of this year was made many times harder because of the recovery from this surgery. I also spent much of this year being more isolated and holed up at home because it, as well. My dilation schedule frequently meant making it an earlier and more sober night than I otherwise would have. This is something I’ve still not fully reverted back from. In a way, it seems like this is my new normal, that I’ve changed. I’m less interested in being out late and I’m less interested in being drunk or even buzzed than I used to be. I spend less time with friends. Despite this, it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.

Dealing with just the surgery recovery would have been enough to keep me busy, but that was only part of what I had going on in the first half of this year.

The non-profit startup I co-founded launched in May. MyTransHealth was a project I started in the fall of 2014 and worked hard to bring to life. Our launch was the culmination of a very successful Kickstarter campaign and thousands of hours of work I put in through 2015 and the first half of 2016 (I mean, we all put in a lot of work, but this is a post about my year). The final months of work for MyTransHealth were put in while juggling intense post-surgery granulation pain and being hopped up on painkillers, but I learned a lot about myself and my dedication to something I care about. It was a level of work I didn’t know I had in me. I learned I’m stronger than I thought I was. And, on top of that, I built something that I’m extremely proud of.

The flip side of MyTransHealth is that it also ruined a very good friendship of mine. It hurt to lose this friend and I’m still working through the feelings associated with that. And just as importantly as losing that friendship, I’m also no longer involved with MyTransHealth. Leaving the organization hurt just as much as losing the friendship did, but…well, it is what it is.

While the finishing touches to MyTransHealth were being put together, I was approached by Women’s Running to be on the friggin’ cover of their July issue. Some of you are aware that I was a finalist in their annual cover contest in 2015 and lost so it was amazing to have the opportunity to be on their cover outside of a contest. This was not an easy decision to make. Being a focus of the cover story on the issue, I know that made me a logical choice for the cover, but it was a lot of attention to invite on myself. I’m no a stranger to attention, but this was a whole new level for me. And it wasn’t just being on the cover, it was also being the first openly trans person on the cover of any fitness magazine. This added even more attention.

IT ME!!!!

As we all know, I did say yes. Less than a week after the launch of MyTransHealth, I had my photoshoot with them and that itself was its own experience. It was wonderful and the issue turned out great. I couldn’t have been more proud to see myself on the cover. While the first few days after the issue hit were an intense ride of media stories about me, things quickly settled down after a couple weeks and I got back to normal life. I was proud of the cover, but at the same time intense levels of attention make me extremely awkward. All I wanted was for no one to recognize me in public. Lucky for me, they didn’t. But the most amazing part was all of the people who reached out to me to tell me how important this was for them and the hope that it gave them. It’s weird to be called an inspiration and I’ve never wanted to be called a role model, but knowing I’ve had a positive effect on so many people’s lives is greatly important to me. I take this seriously and I know the responsibility that comes with it. I do my best to respect that and it’s something that has given me strength through the tough things in my life.

Whaaaaaa???

At over 1,200 words, that just about covers 2016…the first six months.

Come on, you already know I get a little wordy around these parts.

With the Women’s Running cover landing at the end of June, the first half of 2016 was pretty intense and wildly busy. Going into the second half, honestly, all I wanted was a little bit of a rest. I wanted to finish recovering from surgery and I wanted some relaxation. Most of all, I wanted to focus on training for my first marathon post-surgery.

For the most part, that’s how I spent summer and early fall, training for Chicago. I didn’t enter training in the shape I was hoping to be in, but I was within where I had expected to be after a major surgery. I knew just running a fall marathon at all wasn’t a given so I was happy to even be able to train. But training went beyond swimmingly. Much better than I could have imagined it’d go. I went from starting training with a “we’ll see how it goes, but it’d be super rad to snag a small PR” attitude to wrapping up with “fuck it, I’m going for a huge PR and Boston qualifying time.”

The race itself went better than I could have imagined and I ran a nearly flawless race. Not only did I get an 11-minute BQ, but I I also snagged a 16-minute PR. I ran more than a minute faster than my time goal for the last three years—the time I did everything to work towards for New Jersey Marathon 2014 and Grandma’s Marathon 2015 and failed to get. A sub-3:30 marathon had been my running goal since I started transition years ago and I finally got it. And even more importantly than that, after five and a half years of caring more about qualifying for Boston than pretty much anything else in my life, I did that too. I got that 🦄! This wasn’t just my most important running goal, it was one of my most important life goals period. And the truth is, it was possibly my biggest reason for going ahead with having surgery in the first place. To have that pay off so quickly was the nicest surprise I could have ever expected this year.

Amelia Gapin with 2016 Chicago Marathon medal in Grant Park

Oh, yes, look at that smile!

So that was the big stuff in 2016. And it’s a lot of big stuff. But 2016 was also the year I become comfortable enough with my body to run in just a sports bra and shorts or even just wear a bikini. It was my year of body positivity. And, despite not being able to run consistently for the first five months of the year, I still racked up 1,150 miles and scored a new half marathon PR. And my Twitter account got verified.

Running a new half marathon PR in just a sports bra!

Me and Tamar at the Tumblr beach trip!

It was quite the year, to say the least.

Anyway, I kept the second half of the year a lot more sane than the first—like I had hoped—but the reality about 2016 is that none of it has been sane. This has been the year from hell. I know years are mostly just arbitrary markers of time that humans use and we’ve collectively treated 2016 as a sentient being while, in reality, years are an utterly meaningless concept in the universe. But, here’s the thing, we use years as a way to mark time and group things together. People don’t die because of a year and, with the exception of the weather and astronomical events, things that do happen based on the calendar are human constructs. Sure. Absolutely. But we still live by the calendar. We plan by these numbers we assign to the Earth’s position around the Sun. It’s a natural way for use to group things and break our lives down into smaller subdivisions.

And as far as these arbitrary subdivisions go, the one labeled 2016 has been exceptionally difficult. I won’t deny there is, of course, some level of confirmation bias going on and every time something bad happens, it seems to confirm our feelings rather than simply existing in our minds as another unrelated event. Yet these things add up. And in the case of politics and the world outside of celebrity deaths and such, these things are frequently interconnected. They build on and influence each other.

Much of 2016 was dominated by the election. It was brutal and it put on display just how ugly our world can be. How divided humanity is. It’s terrifying, to be honest. 2016 has eroded our democracy and set forth a wrecking ball that will affect our lives for decades to come. Looking ahead to 2017, it’s hard to see a place for people like me. Many members of marginalized groups won’t survive because of what we’ve done this year. LGBT people, black people, Muslims, Jews, and women are all at major risk because of decisions made in 2016. Looking out beyond just 2017, it’s very difficult to see a way in which America’s hyperpartisanship can be healed. For many of us, it’s much easier to see a second American Civil War (this isn’t necessarily my personal prediction, but the way things look and feel).

Obviously, all of the things that have led us down this path towards major war sequels didn’t just come about in 2016. They’ve been there for a long time. Some lying dormant and some, such as racism, existing to various degrees for hundreds of years. But 2016 is when they all bubbled to the surface in ways humanity hasn’t seen in a (relatively) long time. Whether it’s World War III, Cold War II, or Civil War II, it seems quite likely that years—decades—from now we’ll look back on 2016 as being the turning point, the year that it all just started to go to shit.

Basically 2016

Now, that’s a bit of a tangent to go off on in a post that I wanted to write focused on my 2016, but it’s important. 2016 hasn’t been exclusively bad, but it has been a year of garbage all over the place. What I’ve been struggling with for months now is how to reconcile it all. 2016 has been an amazing year for me personally in so many ways, but it’s also been awful in the world. These two things absolutely don’t have to be mutually exclusive and can both be true, but it’s still difficult to come to terms with how to feel about 2016. At best, my feelings are complex and complicated. I am incredibly grateful, happy, and proud of these things from my personal life, but I am heartbroken, enraged, and disgusted by the world around us. These things in my personal life have opened doors for my future. I can now focus on new running goals. I can help more trans people get through their transitions. I can simply live my life more easily. Yet, at the same time, things in 2016 will mean many doors will close in 2017. I won’t be able to live my life as openly and safely as a trans person. There will be more transphobia, homophobia, and misogyny to deal with, in addition to the racism, islamophobia, anti-semitism, and other forms of bigotry (and fascism and white nationalism) that will become even more overt in our country and around the world. The progress we’ve made over the last eight years will be eroded away. It’s quite a dichotomy to try to reason about and accept.

Ultimately, I’m taking these positive and amazing things from my life in 2016 and walking away with my head held high because of them. They can’t be taken from me. And at the same time, I am moving forward with sadness for all the people we’ve lost this year who have had a positive effect on the world and changed it for the better. I am also going forward angry and charged for a new, but more difficult, fight for our rights and our future.

2017 will, almost without a doubt, be worse than 2016, but we don’t have to lie down and accept that quietly. We can stand up and keep on fighting. 2017 may be even worse than 2016, but that doesn’t mean this has to be a thing we’ll say every year going forward. We can put in the work to make this not being the darkest timeline, but just a dark spot in an otherwise brightening timeline. And along the way, we can accept that good and bad things can happen simultaneously. We can accept and enjoy the good while lamenting and fighting against the bad. Life and the world are weird like that and the balance between good and bad things isn’t a constant. It’s a pendulum that swings back and forth.

So, finally, thank you for the good things you gave me, 2016, but mostly fuck you.

PS: If you’re one of those people who come to my blog to leave antagonistic comments or you feel you have something you just have to say in contradiction to my feelings about politics, either specifically related to 2016 or more generally, don’t. Just move along.

2

Training recap: 10/6-10/12

Last week was crazy intense with my trip to the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing (probably more on that soon), but I did manage to get four runs in!

I ran two mornings while away in Phoenix which is what I was hoping to pull off, so I can’t complain. My Wednesday morning run was done on the hotel treadmill which was my first treadmill run since January, I believe. It was sort of torture, but I did my four miles and didn’t entirely want to kill myself! I ended up being too exhausted from everything going on Thursday and Friday to get up and run so I made it up with a run on Saturday morning before catching my flight home. This time, I actually ran outside, though. I didn’t know the area at all since I’ve never been to Phoenix so I just did two laps around the area near the hotel for four miles total, but it was a surprisingly fast run and felt amazing.

Sunday’s long run was planned to be ten miles, I but I didn’t really expect that to happen considering how exhausted I was. I ran seven miles and stopped, but since I was still two miles from home, I decided to at least hit eight miles and cut down on the walk home. I’m not too disappointed by it though, I knew this was likely to be the case.

The good news, though, is that all my fall craziness is over! Mostly. I’ve got nothing but normal life from now until our Disney Wine & Dine racation next month! So I’ve got no excuse to not start pumping up the miles in preparation for the Goofy Challenge in January! I’ve also got no excuses to start blogging more again!

2014 Grace Hopper Celebration  badge

This was a blast!