For those who know me or know my writing, you understand that, for me, running is equal parts about the sport and about the journey. So while I will write about the race – the course, the spectators, the City, and everything that made the Chicago Marathon such an exceptional event – this is not that post. Because, in my mind, it is impossible to do justice to the race without also acknowledging this: 26.2 miles is a friggin’ long way to go. It is hard. Sunday's race tested me and tested my emotions, and that is exactly what made it so impactful.
When I ran New York, my goals were simply to finish the race and celebrate along the way. For Chicago, I added a time goal and racing for the American Cancer Society in memory of my Dad.
As one of the Marathon Majors, I knew the race would be one big running celebration. With more experience behind me, and going into the race injury-free, I did not doubt my ability to finish. Over the past few months, I raised a modest amount of money and awareness for the American Cancer Society and, I hope, brought some attention and honor to my Dad’s memory. The only item left on the goal list was to check off my PR, and even that was looking good by race start.
By every measure – including my long run paces and coaches’ predictions – I should have been able to shave 15 minutes off of my NYC Marathon time. Yes, well, … funny thing happened along the way.
I forgot to pay attention to the blue line.
You know, the line through the middle of the course that represents the shortest path between point A (the start) and point B (the finish)? Totally forgotten as I celebrated instead the presence of my family on the sidelines, the crowds and signs and music and sights, and the joyful blur that made up the first few miles.
And that’s when things started to turn on me.
About 4.8 miles in, my Garmin told me that I was at 5 miles (not so, said the course mile markers). I cursed mildly and blamed the discrepancy on skyscrapers and spotty GPS, and carried on happily through tree-lined Chicago neighborhoods. By the time my watch buzzed with the completion of 13 miles, I was a half a mile short of the 13-mile marker and finally realized that this was not a GPS problem, this was a rookie running mistake and I just made my day harder. Damn tangents.
Even though I tried to mitigate the damage, by mile 18 I knew that my marathon would be almost a mile longer than planned. And it sucked the life out of me. My mind flooded with mental math and self-doubt. How do I get my body to go almost an extra mile? Why am I pushing to run when I can’t meet my PR goal? What the hell – what am I even doing here? This is madness. I’ve got to find a way to get back in the game.
In those moments, I desperately needed reminders that I was stronger than my doubts. And I got them.
My reminders came in sightings of our children, and in the joy and pride and optimism I could read in their faces and hear in their voices as they hustled from one point on the course to another to cheer for their mom.
It came in a small stretch of the course my husband ran by my side, just like we do every weekend, offering his steady strength and advice. As always, he was unwavering in the love and support he offered, and that knowledge grounded me in confidence.
It was in my mom's voice, long after I expected to see her on the course, cutting through the noise of a huge crowd and the music in my headphones, calling out my name as clearly and distinctly as when I was kid and she yelled from down the street to call me to dinner. She was there for me.
I was reminded by my brother’s words, written in a pre-race post and race weekend texts, ever my cheerleader. Through his words, he challenged me to think more deeply about who I am and why I run. On Sunday, I did.
And then there was, most especially, this:
Throughout this training and going into the race, my silent motto has been that my Dad has my back. It was fitting, then, that on the back of my American Cancer Society race shirt, I wrote that I was running in memory of Dad.
There were three distinct points in race, when I was scraping the bottom and feeling defeated. Without fail, in each of those moments, a runner would come beside me and tap my Dad’s name on my back and give me a nod of encouragement. The third time it happened was after mile 18. Another American Cancer Society runner patted my back, turned around and gave me a broad and knowing smile, and as she pulled ahead, I saw a picture of her Mom pinned to her shirt and a written tribute to the parent she had lost.
As surely as I write this, in those moments, through those runners, I was reminded from above that my Dad, as always, had my back.
There have been, and will be, far bigger challenges in my life than being able to finish a marathon. But if I learned anything from Chicago, it is that there is strength, and determination, and optimism residing in me that will take me beyond what I think is possible if only I dare to tap into it. There is empowerment that comes with knowing that I can push through barriers. And comfort in the knowledge that even though it is me that must summon the inner strength and courage to move forward, I am most assuredly not alone on this journey.
Post-script: I finished the Chicago Marathon with a PR ... 2 minutes 45 seconds faster than New York. Never Give Up.