Race Report: AVON Full Marathon Walk

Let me start off by saying that this event was not a race, so the term 'race report' is a bit inaccurate. This is more like an 'event report' because the AVON Walk is not a race. It is a personal challenge to reach beyond one's limits to achieve a goal on behalf of the thousands of people fighting a battle against breast cancer.

Having said that, the training and preparation for these endurance walks are no different than training for a race. You spend hours and hours on your feet each week, covering 20-30 weekly miles, to ensure you have what it takes to 'go the distance.' I faced this 39.3 mile challenge from this perspective. It was going to be my first Full Marathon distance, and I wanted to make sure I could make it. I wanted to honor those for whom I was walking, and show my solidarity with those who donated money for this event.

Saturday - the Full Marathon

3AM and the alarm goes off on my iPhone, followed 5 minutes later by the telephone 'wake-up call' I requested at the Front Desk of the Hyatt Regency Hotel. I had laid everything out the night before so I got dressed, rechecked my Hydration Pack, and made sure plenty of Body Glide was applied to my feet before my Wrightsocks and Brooks PureCadence shoes went on. I had my fuel, first aid stuff, extra socks, several other items all accounted for.

I was using the Hydration Pack, but not for water, just for various supplies (I left the bladder for it at home). I was bringing along a water bottle filled with Powerade (I was told that the aid stations along the route didn't have cups because they expected you to just refill your water bottle). I also decided to wear NipGuards just to make sure I wouldn't suffer from bloody nipples by the end of the Walk. I was ready.

I ate the breakfast I had prepared -- a banana, chocolate milk, and a PB&J sandwich -- and paid a visit to the bathroom before heading downstairs at 4:30AM to catch a shuttle bus that would take me to Soldier Field, the race start. I arrived without incident, and dropped off my gear bag in one of the many trucks that would take our gear to the Wellness Village (Horner Park) where the 26.2 Mile Walk would end.

It was in the low 60s and breezy as I met up with the rest of my team. One of the supplies I brought with me was my Disney Mylar Blanket from January so I wrapped it around me to keep the wind off. It was an exciting time! Everyone was anticipating a fun day, taking lots of photographs, having mini-reunions with others from previous Walk events, and generally having fun. We took a group photo before heading over to the large stage where the event kickoff would take place.

After many speeches by amazing people, and a few tears, the race began! I started off walking with a group of three fast-walking women on my team. We started walking down the lakefront of Lake Michigan. It was a gorgeous day and being beside the Lake was really nice. I got about a mile when I realized that I did NOT have my water bottle with me! How could that be true? I never leave without water! But alas, I must have left it on the desk at the hotel. So now I was faced with a potentially serious problem to solve. With no cups at aid stations, there would be no way I could go 26.2 miles with no water.

The first Rest Stop was 2.4 miles into the Walk. I was hoping they would have a water bottle there but no such luck. I was getting worried. But a solution presented itself about a half mile further down the beach. A guy was selling sodas, juice, and water at a beachfront concession stand! I brought some money with me so I went up to him and bought a bottle of water. Voila! Problem solved! I guzzled down about half the bottle and caught up with my group. The only downside here was that I had to hold onto this bottle for the next 23 miles.

One of our group started having foot problems and needed a potty break around Mile 5 so we decided when we reached the aid station at Mile 6.2, we would stop, refill our water bottles, and have Medical wrap her feet. When we arrived, Sue said she would wait with her in Medical and told me to continue on. I hesitated but she insisted I should keep going (because I had a time goal I was hoping to meet).

So I kept on. I met up with a guy pretty quickly (guys were in a definite minority in the Walk) and we ended up walking together for the next 5K. We were walking at a good pace -- around 14:00/mm -- and feeling pretty good. We stayed on Lake Shore Drive until Mile 10, when we reached the Lunch Rest Stop.

At this point, I need to talk about the aid stations, rest stops, and race support in general. The AVON Walk spares no expense when it comes to taking care of its walkers. This makes sense given that most of the walkers are not runners or race walkers, so they do not have a lot of experience with endurance events. And, many do not walk very fast. In fact, they plan for the walkers to move at 2.5mph.

They have two types of aid stations: Rest Stops and Quick Stops. Both have water and Gatorade (3-4 different flavors), snacks/fruit, porta-potties, and cheering volunteers. The Rest Stops have medical staff, chairs and cots underneath tents/shade, and food. The 26.2 course has 6 Rest Stops, 1 Lunch Stop, and 6 Quick Stops. The volunteers are amazing! They will refill your water bottle, get you anything you need, and really 'care' for you. And doing all of that while telling you warm and encouraging things to keep you motivated.

I remember at the Rest Stop at Mile 16.5, I did a 'foot check' (took off my shoes and socks to make sure I had no blisters forming) and they fawned all over me to make sure I was comfortable. (My feet were perfect btw). That was the only stop I really 'stopped' at. Mostly I would just refill my water bottle as necessary, grab a banana/snack, and 3 times I took a fast potty break.

At the Lunch Stop at Mile 10, I took a 1 minute break to grab a sandwich, sun chips, banana, apple, and some carrots. I stuffed them all in my pack, did some quick stretching and got back on the course. At this point, I was passing the Magnificent Mile, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Trump Tower, and the Merchandise Mart downtown.

I reached the Half Marathon point in about 3:15 hours. The volunteer there told me I was the 35th person to reach that stop! I did not know that the stations kept a count so that was kinda cool (they do not keep time during the Walk). I kept on walking and was really having a lot of fun (even though I was pretty much walking by myself). My only worry was getting lost -- the route had these orange 'arrows' at intersections to show you to go straight, right, or left. Miss one of those, and you are in trouble.

As I mentioned earlier, Mile 16.5 was the first time I decided to actually 'stop' for a few minutes. I ate a banana, talked with the volunteers, checked my feet and reapplied Body Glide, and got my water bottle refilled. Then I kept going after saying goodbye to the wonderful volunteers working there. The next major Point of Interest along the route was Wrigley Field at Mile 18. the home of the Chicago Cubs. It was so cool to see the stadium! The sidewalks were very crowded here though so it made it hard to make it through (and to see those orange arrows)!

At Mile 20, I was starting to feel fatigued. I was definitely walking slower, and the temperatures by now were in the upper 70s. It was probably around 12:30pm so I had been on my feet for five hours and I knew I had several more hours remaining. But I took a moment to do a little 'dance' to celebrate reaching 20 miles (I attribute the 20-mile dance to my friend Joe Taricani of The Marathon Show). I did a disco move to the song "Staying Alive" that was playing in my head (people probably thought I was delirious).

At Mile 23, I had something unexpected happen. My right shoulder and neck started really hurting. At the time, I just thought it was because of carrying that Hydration Pack (and holding that water bottle in my right hand all day) and perhaps I pulled a muscle or had a spasm. It hurt to move the shoulder so after a while I just let the arm hang to my side. It was so weird. And it slowed my pace down a bit. But by this point, I was 5K away from the Finish and I was not to be denied.

Now I think the issue was due to a bee sting. I am slightly allergic to bees and one sting can really cause pain in my skin and muscles for days. I did not have an EPIpen with me either (note to self not to make that mistake in the future). But at the time, it didn't feel like a bee sting (perhaps I was suffering from 'marathon brain' at that point).

Seeing the Mile 26 Mile Marker was heaven! I sped up my walking pace to the Wellness Village at Horner Park and finished strong! I barely heard the woman say my number but I think it was 60 or something. I finished in 7 hours, 39 minutes (17:13/mm pace) at 2:39pm. Only one teammate of mine finished ahead of me and that was Marcia who finished at 2:30pm and she was number 35 I think.

I was very happy! I had finished my first Full Marathon!! I made it 26.2 miles upright, on my feet (which were sore, along with my shoulder). My first stop was the Medical Tent for some Advil. But when they found out my heart rate was 152, they kinda freaked out and made me go into the tent. I tried to tell them that I was fine (I was in my Zone 3) but they were like mother hens. I sat down, took the Advil with some cold water, and got them to find some ice for my shoulder. They kept asking me about my heart rate, which by then had gone down to 143 and kept dropping. After it got to 125, I told them I was going to leave now because I wanted to pick up my gear bag (so I could change into my sandals). It was kind of annoying in a way, but I can appreciate their being overly cautious.

After that, I got my name on the massage tent list and met up with our team captain (who walked the Half Marathon distance and took a wagon to the Wellness Center). We spent some time in another tent with back and foot massage chairs and then went to the finish to cheer on more finishers.

At about 4pm, I went back to the massage tent to see how close I was on the list. I was 8th!! So I waited until they called my name. I got the best post-race massage I have ever received. It was about a 25 minute full body massage and when the young lady was done, I felt like I could walk the 13.1 miles back to Soldier Field! I felt great! My legs and feet were much better, even the shoulder felt better! Alleluia!

About half the team had finished by 5pm, so we all went to have dinner which was being served. Oh my, it was tasty! Chicken, brown rice, mostacholi, meatballs, green beans, bread... yummy! After dinner, and good conversation with the team, I headed to the bus shuttles to take me back to the Hyatt for the night. I met up with my wife, showered, and we ordered room service for her dinner (I had a slice of Chicago Cheesecake as my treat for burning 6038 calories).

I wished I had specifically asked for a bathroom with a tub! Ours had a shower stall. Oh well, no ice bath for me. But it turned out that I didn't really need it, thanks to that great massage and the Advil! We watched the movie "Back to the Future" on her laptop but I fell asleep after the first 30 minutes and didn't wake up until the alarm went off Sunday morning for the Half Marathon.

What an awesome experience!!!! Meeting all those walkers, talking to them about why they were walking and hearing their stories. Seeing all the amazing sights in Chicago as the route took us all over the city. It was just amazing!!

But the best part was the ability to state that now, "I AM A MARATHONER!!!"

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