Chicago in 26.2 Miles
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Monday, October 20, 2014

Chicago in 26.2 Miles


One minute and forty-two seconds more and the tears wouldn’t have been falling across a smile. Who knew such a small chunk of time could be so significant.

It was a sunny early autumn day in Chicago. The air was crisp, the gloves were on, but my red racing shorts were making their American debut. It was marathon day, the Chicago Marathon, in case that wasn't clear, and after a trans-Atlantic flight from Paris, waking up at 4:30AM was a cinch.

The task at hand was one I had already met 6 times: run 26.2 miles. Simple enough. But this time, the training, sobriety, and healthy eating that I had endured left me hell-bent on finishing the marathon in less than 4 hours, something that I almost did in Paris. This time, finishing over four hours wasn’t an option if I wanted the trip to be worth my while. Would it be lucky number seven?

Not a bad-looking city...

Some 45,000 runners joined the Kenyans also looking for a personal record out at Millennium Park, the sun rising slowly over Lake Michigan. After waiting with first-time marathoner Bridget for the toilets, I ran to get started and jumped in the corral with other eager participants.

Then we were off. At 7:45 in the morning, Chicago was alarmingly awake (that’s 8:45 EST for those of you on the east coast). Crowds lined the streets with signs and bells drowning out the thumping of thousands of feet along the pavement. The roar was a change from a calm Sunday morning run along the Canal St-Martin back in Paris.

The signs were way better than any during the Paris marathon. A lot of them had to do with nipples, pain, and of course poop. Wordplay was rapant (“No time for Walken” with a photo of Christopher Walken). “This seemed like a good idea four months ago” others read – and at this point it still was. “Run like you stole something!” a classic sign read, and as I ran by, I told the woman holding it that I had. She laughed. I laughed. This was a good race.

The "Bean."

The first half went off without a hitch. I kept the pace even and calm, racing through Chicago’s iconic neighborhoods, even running into a former student from NYU in Paris who looked as surprised as I felt to see her.

After a few Clif Blok gels – sweet bits of fruity goodness that feel like mushrooms in a Mario Bros game – my engines started to realize that they had to keep going for another 13 miles. That’s when the mental games started playing out, my brain tricking my legs into stopping. But I had a secret weapon that worked every time.

Cue music. “Let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore…” and I was off like a flash. What better way to drown out doubt than with a Disney tune on loop in your brain?

Or pizza?

Mile 14, 15, 16, more sweet, fruity gels, 17, 18, 19, and ouch time began. People’s signs kept things entertaining, but at this point telling me I was “almost there” was something of a tease. I kept downing whatever I was fed, another Clif Blok, a piece of banana.

“I don’t care…what they’re going to say…let the storm rage on…” it started again.  I could walk, right? Wasn’t I going to finish well under four hours? I thought. The clock suggested it, but I knew I was slowing down. 20. 21. 22. 23.

"The Competition"

I started thinking of the people I should dedicate a mile to, even if they don’t really understand the concept of marathoning. That’s something other marathoners say helps. Family members crossed my mind, even if I knew they didn’t quite get what a sub-4-hour marathon meant.

“My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around…” the song wouldn’t stop. Neither would my legs.
Finally – if not miraculously – we made it to the last three mile stretch up Michigan Avenue, the skyline not far from our view. The cheering continued, the crowds thickened, and I started picking up the pace. If I wasn’t dead at this point, chances are I could cut a few seconds off my time. Michigan Avenue opened up and the crowds were roaring, echoing all around.

The reason for it all.

This is where things got real. The tears I’d been fighting back for a while – yeah, it’s emotional – were about to make their grand debut. 24. 25.

Trying to convince myself that even if I didn’t finish under four hours, things were fine. But secretly I knew I had done it. You just sort of know.

26.

Tears.

Just 200 yards to go. We headed up a tiny little hill (Really? Now?) and I could see the finish line around the corner. Relief and joy washed over the entire finish line as we all barreled towards it.

Three hours, fifty-eight minutes, and eighteen seconds. Boys do cry. I did it, even if just barely. For a marathon runner, this means a whole new world of possibilities has opened.

That's my name.

Now I get to scale my way down towards a three hour marathon – though we’ll wait a bit before that training begins.

I took my medal and felt that it was truly deserved, more than just a memento to put with the others. Chicago, it’s been real. I will forever cherish your flat course, rowdy crowds, and beautiful weather that helped this punk achieve an important goal. See you soon.

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