I came to understand a few things this weekend while running the Chicago Marathon.
- In the marathon distance, you’re not racing against – you’re running with – others. I’m excited to say that I finished in the top 7% of runners, but probably only the top .07% actually go out there to win. That small fact means you can just enjoy the camaraderie of the running community and the effort put toward beating only yourself. Nice.
- An effort like the marathon is something that is done mostly in the ‘dark’ hours. Those non-paid, non-responsibility-laden hours before sunrise or after sundown when the only other alternative might be sleep, TV or a book. It makes one remember that many people have dark hour endeavors (that’s not meant to sound as evil as it does) that make them special and unique. Let’s all remember to encourage those things in others!
- When you open yourself to the support of others, everyone wins. I will never be able to adequately thank those who walked (in a chilly 6am) and biked (all over the city) to support me on Sunday. It’s overwhelming to see how much you’re loved by those whom you love so much.
There was so much more, but at the risk of getting soupy, I’m going to move on to the race report.
It starts months before the race, during which training logged at least enough miles to have walked from Atlanta to the start line in Chicago. Not kidding. That’s the time you dig deep – the race is the sweet, sweet icing on a very slow-baking cupcake.
All through training, I used Charity Miles to raise money for causes like ASPCA, Feed America, Partnership for a Healthier America and Every Mother Counts. (I logged 27 miles on race day for Feed America – huge thanks to the corporations that make Charity Miles possible.) Even still, I felt like all the effort was calling toward something as big as the marathon effort. Sadly, the answer to that nagging sense came in a phone call that said that one of our oldest friends had been diagnosed with Stage Four cancer. I immediately dedicated my run to Kathy and kicked off a fundraiser that has raised more than $5,600 in SIX days. People are so good. So generous. Our prayer is that the funds will provide the extras that Kathy really needs in her arsenal as she battles this nasty cancer. Wonderfully, so many of the donations came with wonderful words of prayer and kind thoughts for Kathy – wrapping her in support for her own marathon effort. One donation in particular (though left humbly and anonymously) surely will give her strength…especially should she ever really know its source.
This was the first US major after the Boston bombing, and the security was high. Getting to the corral was like winding through a mouse maze, but I felt very safe. And so happy – arriving, I ran into a fellow Oiselle team runner (Alison, who had a kick ass race!), my sometimes training pal Sang, and my often training pals, Jill and her husband Tom. Community! Yay! This was a comfort because, despite the wonderful Bible verses and words of encouragement coming from friends and family via early morning text messages, my nerves were RAW.
I planned poorly, which opened the scene for the first real “runners are the best kinds of people” moment. Though I’d packed a ‘throw away’ long sleeve tee shirt and gloves to keep me warm at the start line, I’d left them at the hotel because, hey, 50 degrees and breezy aren’t so cold for a southern girl, right? Wrong. I was freaking freezing. Seeing me shivering, this kind older guy who was bundled in three sweatshirts pulled off one and offered it (warm from him) to wear until the gun went off. It was, no lie, like a hug. In return, I gave him the rest of my water. This was biblical, people. Pure kindness.
We had a moment of silence for Boston, then the National Anthem began. It was apparent rather quickly that the sound system was glitchy, and as the sound of the singer’s voice began to go more out than in, it became also apparent that 40,000 voices had picked up the song. We all sang the anthem together, and it was, without question, the most glorious sound. I wiped a few more tears, then bowed my head in prayer.
This was a special race. I gave it to God, as I always do – the pain and the glory of what was to come. Then I dedicated every step to Kathy, and asked God to see her through every step of her treatment.
Something special happens when a race begins. My heart lifts and takes my cheeks with it. I started to smile with that very first step, and I don’t think that I stopped until I’d crossed the finish. I’m sure I looked like an idiot, grinning for three hours and twenty minutes – and my cheeks were aching but it was an involuntary reaction.
I’ll gloss over most of the 26 miles – can’t imagine you care where I got a blister or that I ended up with odd bruises on my knees and layers of salt crust on my face. But a list of funny/cool things seen on my run:
- My adorable family, kids rumpled from being pulled from bed too early, cheering.
- A line of men at about mile 3 all peeing through the rungs of an iron fence. Booties lined side by side. So funny and horrible at once.
- A dog attacking a vuvuzela when his owner blew it. Don’t think pup liked that horn much. Betting that made for a long day of cheering.
- Purple elvis!
- Guy running and bouncing two basketballs. I maintain that seems incredibly dangerous, but he seemed to have it under control.
- Drag queens singing on stages.
- A cafe named after my daughter.
- My wonderful husband, who’d parked the bike he rode all over Chicago, running down the sidewalk and calling my name, jacket flying like a cape for the superhero he is. (That may have been my fastest mile.)
- Mariachi band.
There were more, of course – covering 26+ miles, you’re sure to see some stuff.
When it was over, I realized that some miracles had happened for me:
- I never found a wall.
- I’d lost the 3:30 and 3:25 pacers somewhere, decided I didn’t care because I was having so much fun, then saw the 3:20 group and realized that I had it in me to run with those whose times I would only think to admire – not aspire to.
- I exceeded my C goal (finish happily), my B goal (beat my 3:31 Tallahassee time) and my A goal (3:25 finish) by crossing in 3:20:08. It’s a big BQ for me. It smashed my PR. And it made me realize that perhaps I underestimated myself a little.
Let’s be honest. Running a marathon is awesome. It’s not going to change the world. It’s not even all that unique an endeavor. Over the weekend 27 marathons took place, and in just the one I ran, there were 40,000 people. Lots of us run marathons. Lots of us do other incredible things.
What it comes down to is this – do big things. Commit to them entirely and see them through. You’ll be rewarded by finding things in yourself that you maybe didn’t know were there.