As most of you already know, I completed my first marathon in Chicago this past Sunday. October 22nd represented the final chapter of a 10 month journey that began on New Year’s Day when I decided that I would complete a marathon in 2006. It was an ambitious goal to be sure. What made it even more remarkable (or insane depending on your perspective) was that I had done very little running in the past. In fact, the only running I had ever done on a consistent basis had been on a treadmill. Now, I was going to go from pounding out a few miles in a gym while watching TV to a full-blown marathon. What in the world was I getting myself into? Ten months and hundreds of miles later, I was about to find out.
Two weeks before the big day, I injured one of my ankles while running. I’m not even sure how it happened, but it was a set-back that I didn’t anticipate. Why now? I had been running all year and didn’t encounter any major problems. Suddenly, with the marathon right around the corner, I get an injury like this? For the most part, I played it safe and kept the running to an absolute minimum. My thinking was that if I gave myself enough time to rest and recover, everything would be fine during the race. By the time the 22nd arrived, my ankle was feeling much better. The marathon was finally here and there was nothing more that I could do besides relax and finish the race.
When I woke-up on the day of the marathon, I was relieved to find out that it wasn’t raining. For the past few days, the weather forecasts had been predicting rain and snow showers with temperatures ranging from the high 30s to low 40s. It was definitely cold and windy that morning, but it was dry. I didn’t even want to think about how miserable it would have been to be cold AND wet as I tried to run 26.2 miles in gusty winds. Things were starting to look-up and my excitement was building.
The race began at 8:00 am, yet I was so far back that it took me 22 minutes to even cross the start line. As everyone began surging forward, my adrenaline really kicked-in. I kept telling myself that I needed to go out slow, but if it wouldn’t have been for all of the other runners in front of me I probably would have taken-off in a full blown sprint. Despite the slow start, I began to make-up time as we snaked through downtown, up through Lincoln Park and Wrigleyville, and back into the Loop. The race was going by much faster than I anticipated. At this point, I began doing some quick calculations in my head. If I continued at the same pace for the rest of the race, I was on track to finish in less than 5 hours. Although I told everyone that my only goal was to just finish the race, I really wanted to prove to myself that I could do it in less than 5 hours. At this point, everything was going as it should and I was a very happy runner.
Around mile 13, I started to have some pain in my ankle but pushed on as I was making good time and didn’t want to slow down. At mile 15, I decided to walk for a few minutes while I ate an energy bar and munched on some Jelly Belly energy beans (I scoped-up several handfuls of these at the Health Expo the day before since they were free!). When I started to run again, the pain in my ankle was so bad that I quickly went back to walking. I continued a jogging/waking routine until I hit mile 16. By this time, the pain was so bad that I couldn’t even jog anymore. I looked around at the crowd and saw someone holding a sign that read, “Pain is temporary. Quitting is forever.” How true. The marathon was already half-over and there was no way I was throwing in the towel at this point, even if it meant I would have to crawl across the finish line.
I continued along at this pace until mile 20. As I limped along, a woman named Sarah came up to me and asked if I was in a lot of pain. Apparently, it was that obvious. Sarah told me that her knee was giving her some problems and she could no longer run. Like me, it was her first race and she was a little disappointed on how things were unfolding but was going to tough it out. Then she did something truly amazing. Instead of continuing at a faster pace, she said that she would walk with me the last 6 miles to ensure that I completed the marathon! I barely even knew this person, but was touched by her support and encouragement. With a renewed sense of resolve, I was determined now more than ever to finish the race.
By the time I turned onto Michigan Avenue to begin the final leg of the race, I only had one thing on my mind: the Hilton Hotel. I knew the hotel was directly across from Grant Park. If I could just see the hotel in the distance it would hopefully give me a much needed push to get to the finish line. Yet, as I looked towards downtown I couldn’t see the hotel! My God, how far away were we! Was this someone’s idea of a cruel joke?
As it turned out, the finish line was not far away at all. That was good as I was in really bad shape by the time I finally got to Grant Park. My ankle was killing me. It was cold and windy. I was exhausted. Sarah was gone as I encouraged her to go ahead and run across the finish line. Did I mention I was exhausted? No one was by me as I turned the corner and began hobbling straight for the finish line. Suddenly all of the spectators were calling-out my name and bib number and were cheering me on all the way to the end. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and began running (even though the pain was nearly unbearable at this point). I crossed the line, got my medal, had my chip taken-off of my shoe, and then grabbed a beer and downed it immediately. It was free and by that point I needed a drink badly! Even though I walked the last 10 miles, I still completed the race in 5:42. It wasn’t a complete catastrophe after all!
The marathon is an experience I’ll never forget. Despite all of the hard work and set backs, I still had a blast and that’s really all that matters. With the race behind me, everyone wants to know if I’ll do another one. It’s a hard question for me to answer at the moment. I need some time to recover and reflect on how things went before I commit to another marathon. However, I do want to say that there is no way I would have been able to complete the marathon without the support and encouragement of the entire running group. I only wish it would have been possible to share my joy and agony with everyone! Thanks everyone!