No alarm clock was needed the morning of the Chicago Marathon (even though I had set three!) “Today is the day,” I thought, as my eyes opened promptly at 4am. I quietly began doing yoga on the hotel room floor as my mom, Nancy, slept soundly. I was pleased that I had gotten nearly 4 hours of sleep, despite laying down at 8pm. Today was the day I would become a marathoner.
Nancy and I arrived at the hospitality tent at 5:30 am and enjoyed breakfast and conversation with other participants. I was surprised to hear that even seasoned marathoners were just as nervous as we were. The sun rose as we made our way to the corral and as the national anthem was being sung, the reality of what was about to happen sunk in. “I love you, Mom!” I said as we were released onto the city streets.
The streets were lined with spectators cheering loudly and holding up signs. The first thing that hurt were my cheeks, as I could not keep the smile off my face. Every nationality was represented as we made our way through the diverse neighborhoods with music and dancing; it was the biggest party I have every run through!
At the half-marathon mark, I was still all smiles. “I’ve got another 13.1 miles in me, Mom!” I happily said. Things were looking up until mile 15 when my feet began to swell and the sun beat down on us. While I was still having fun, I was starting to question what the next 11 miles would bring.
Reprieve came at Mile 17, where the Oiselle Volée cowbell corner cheered loudly. I was dazed, but I knew I was heading the right way when I saw a poster that read “TODAY, MOTHERF***ER” and fell into the arms of my flock. I don’t remember crying at this point, but the photos prove otherwise. I was given a Payday bar, some words of encouragement, and off we flew into what ended up being the most hellish run of my life.
At Mile 21, the crowds thinned out, as did the shade provided by buildings, and I realized I had hit “the wall” that I had heard so much about. My mom reminded me that my new friend and fellow bird Mary, would be at Mile 22. I began sobbing when I saw her, telling how hot and tired I was. She gave me a powerful pep talk, ran alongside me and then gently pushed me (literally) back into the race.
I knew things were getting bad when the crowd was cheering wildly for me, “YOU LOOK GREAT!” I know what this means and it’s not that you look great, it’s that you look like you’re fading. Hunched over, and stumbling, I focused on placing one foot in front of the other. With “just a 5K” to go, my quads felt like they were going to explode. I didn’t even blink when Nancy began dumping cold water over my head. With 2.2 miles to go, an emergency whistle started chirping in the distance. I said to Nancy, “I don’t care what the that is, we are finishing.”
The support from the crowd was unbelievable as I did my best impression of the walking dead. I saw a sign that said 300 meters to go. I thought about all that I had been through to get to this point and all the people who helped me get here. I thought about the people I had met on the course that day who told me what my story meant to them. I realized I wasn’t the only person suffering, or the only one running the marathon to overcome suffering.
My mom began to tell me how proud of me she was. “Not now, Mom, I need to finish this, but I love you.” So much for the sentimental finish I imagined; grit doesn’t always leave room for feelings. We grabbed each other’s hands and I lumbered over the finish line.
The words that so many people have said to me are finally starting to sink in – no matter what it took to get there, I am now a marathoner, and no one can take that from me. Not today, not ever.