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Blog Post | Wed October 19, 2016, 05:29 PM EST

  • Me after finishing the Bank of America Chicago Marathon 2016

    Me after finishing the Bank of America Chicago Marathon 2016

  • My friends/teammates/training partners and I - Hannah on my left and Alyvia on my right

    My friends/teammates/training partners and I - Hannah on my left and Alyvia on my right

October 19, 2016 -- Hi everyone! My name is Ally Spiroff and I am one of the interns at Kurman Communications, Inc. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a really passionate writer, but I’m also really passionate about running. I truly believe that running helps me to be a better writer and that writing helps me to be a better runner.

Why am I talking about running? Well, I just ran my first marathon on Sunday, so I guess you could say that it’s fresh in my mind. After competing at the Division I level for the past five years (I had a redshirt season) on the track and cross country teams at Loyola University Chicago, I found myself finishing up one last year of graduate school at Loyola this year but very much out of NCAA eligibility. As someone who always needs to be undertaking some type of intense athletic endeavor, I thought to myself, now that my collegiate running career is over, what do I do next? Naturally, my mind wandered to a dream I have had ever since I started running: the marathon. The marathon distance, perhaps the most sacred race in the running world, was uncharted territory for me. I wanted to conquer it, and now was my chance.

I grabbed my nearest training buddy (which happened to be one of my current roommates, Hannah Magnuson, with whom I had run for four years on the Loyola team), and we signed up for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon 2016. A few weeks later, once we found out that we had been accepted into the marathon lottery, it became real—we were doing it.

Now, I had to figure out: how does one go about training to run a marathon? For the past five years, I had been training for 3k’s – 6k’s. This race was going to be a little over 42k’s! Luckily, I have a wonderful coach who helped Hannah and I create a solid training plan for the summer and fall months building up to the marathon. We mostly focused on long runs, clocking multiple Sunday runs from anywhere between 16-22 miles. From there, we would throw in one other fast workout per week and a few days of weight training. On the other days of the week, we would run miles either before or after school and work. We would also try to get in as many miles as possible on our bikes, which works out well because our bikes are our modes of transportation to get around the city anyway.

In contrast to collegiate running, marathon training was the most stress-free regimen I had ever undertaken when training for a race. Yes, the long runs were hard, but I have always felt like I was made to be a marathoner and long-distance training just clicked with me. It was amazing to have Hannah to train with. We motivated and encouraged each other throughout the process, as did another good friend and teammate of ours, Alyvia Clark. An experienced marathoner who was training to run the marathon for a second time, Alyvia showed us the ropes on long runs, and she also showed us how to do some hardcore post-run refueling over brunch, too! We enjoyed brunch as many times as we ran our long runs.

As the day of the marathon approached, I was getting more and more nervous. I thought I knew what I was doing, but I still wasn’t completely sure, as I had never done a marathon before. As much as I was nervous, though, I knew in my heart that I was ready, and I got really excited in the days leading up to the big day.

The morning of the marathon was a blur. I was up out of bed at 5:15 a.m., eating breakfast by 5:30 a.m., and then on the train platform by 6:00 a.m. After going through security, checking our gear, double checking to make sure we had our race fuel with us, and going to the bathroom at least three times, we made our way over to the start corral. Before I knew it, the gun went off.

As soon as the marathon started, it was almost like a wave of coolness washed over me. A lot of my nervous energy dissipated and was filled with a calming, relaxed presence. The marathon felt different from any other race I had run before, but, at the same time, it felt familiar, like an old friend.

Hannah and I talked through most of the race, and at the beginning of the race, she commented on how it was just like we were on one of our long runs, through the city that we have been running around in for six years, but with millions of adoring fans cheering us on. I realized she was exactly right. We felt great, clocking mile after mile at a fast pace. We didn’t know whether we would hit the dreaded marathon “wall” at any point, but since we had never done a marathon before we just listened to our bodies and went by how we felt.

Aerobically, the race was never too challenging for us, as we have been racing at a much faster pace for five years, running 5k’s and 6k’s. After mile 20, the marathon did get really tough in other ways, though, due to my legs just beginning to give out. I never felt like I was having any sort of labored breathing, but  I did feel like my legs physically couldn’t move any faster towards the end of the race. Hannah would tell me to surge ahead, and I would try, but I was not able to make much of a move ahead of her and she would catch up to me. When I would tell her to surge, the same scenario would occur but reversed.

As we approached the finish, I whispered to Hannah, “just 200 meters left on our home track!” Despite our legs beginning to give out, we closed with another evenly-paced, fast mile to finish at the exact same time of 3:06, good enough for 154th female overall out of 18,478. I finished 18th in my age group (20-24) out of 1655, and 1463rd overall out of 40400. Those numbers put me in the top 1% for females in the race, 9% in my age group, and 3% in the entire race. We split the first half of the race and the second half of the race almost evenly, and we averaged about 7 minute mile pace.

I was surprised at how much my body could handle. I was pretty pleased with my marathon debut, and I really enjoyed the marathon distance (ok, haha, until the last couple of miles)! I had no idea what I was doing, but it was a blast to be out there running through a city I know so well and love so much, testing the waters. It is fun because I am just getting started with a long marathon career, and now that I have a marathon experience, I cannot wait to see where this journey will take me. Since the race aerobically did not feel hard, it means that next time I think I will be able to break three hours. I like to push my mind and body to the absolute limits, so now that I know I like the distance, I can really challenge myself just to see how good I can get at it.

I will be doing the New York City and Boston marathons next year, so those challenges are up next for me! Until then, after a little bit of downtime, I will probably focus on running a couple of shorter races – 10k’s, half-marathons, and 5k’s – for the remainder of the year. It will be great to pump a little bit of speed back into my life after longer, slower marathon training.

I would like to thank everyone who has ever been involved in my running career to get me to where I am today. Thanks to my parents for always supporting my crazy running endeavors, my brother for putting up with me, my extended family for always cheering me on from Wisconsin, my high school cross country and track coaches and teammates for getting me started in and teaching me all about the sport, my college cross country and track coaches and teammates for making me into the runner I am today, my friends–wherever they are in the world–who always offer the best encouragement, my two friends and teammates, Abby and Megan, who jumped in the race to pace Hannah and me for part of it, my roommates for biking and rollerblading alongside Hannah and me on our long runs blasting music to keep us going, the volunteers who made the marathon possible, all of the people who raised money for many different charities, and the fans who came out cheer on the course on Sunday.

I want to offer a very special thanks to Hannah for the miles and miles we spent together before, during, and after the race.  There is no one I would rather have run my first marathon with than you. It was an experience I will always remember, and I cannot wait to keep our journey going together! Thanks to Alyvia for showing Hannah and me the ropes, and for being the best training partner we could ever ask for. Also, congratulations on killing it in the marathon, of course (3:01)!

Last but definitely not least, special thanks to my boss, Cindy Kurman and all of the Kurman Communications staff for supporting my running career—not to mention introducing me to a professional career. Also, here is a special shout out to my fellow intern, Elisa Rascia, for putting up with me, listening to me talk about the marathon on our lunch break every day since I arrived at Kurman, and always cheering me on.

Thanks again everyone!

Peace, love, and running (fast),

Ally Spiroff

Blog Post | Wed October 19, 2016, 05:29 PM EST

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