Upon registration, I started thinking about my prior marathons, and how those finish lines felt, what I was going through during each training cycle, and the ways that my environment has affected my success. I’ve run the gamut of emotions, for sure, and if anything, it shows how emotional and impactful these training cycles can be for me. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a horrible thing, but it’s my thing. Over the years, my goals have been simple and grandiose, some of which were met, and some of which were lost. They are part of my story, both as a runner and as a human, and I’m proud of the lessons I learned in each and every finishing chute.
#1 Chicago Marathon – Oct 2008: This was my very first marathon, and I had no idea how to train, much less race. I had only been “running” for about 3-4 months when I signed up, and my theory of “well, I mean, I barely finished an 8k, sooo…..” isn’t one I recommend. I got a training plan from a friend of a friend who had run a few marathons, and my only goal was to finish. I struggled through long runs in the heat, even passing out once during a particularly hot and crowded run along the lake front. On race day, it was sweltering, and I finished in 5:12 (an 11:55 pace). I was incredibly proud of myself, and my family was too. My family got me back to my apartment, where a shower helped me identify all of places I’d chafed my skin raw, I proceeded to order a medium Chicago-style pizza, kick them out, and eat it by myself.
#2 Chicago Marathon – Oct 2010: I decided not to run Chicago again in 2009, but I did spectate. I was in tears as I watched runners achieve their hard-fought goals, and determined to run Chicago again: faster, with a more deliberate training schedule. I trained for a ~4 hour pace, but the weather was even hotter than 2008, and my knee/hip started giving my problems around mile 17-18. I was mortified that a friend from law school had jumped in to run with me, only to watch me limp for the next 7 miles, stretching me out every so often to relieve the hip/glute pain. I finished even slower than my first marathon – 5:36.
#3 Twin Cities Marathon – Oct 2012: I took another year off from the marathon, feeling pretty defeated at the distance, and sure that I never needed to run it again. I was running sporadically (mostly for stress from law school), and doing the occasional shorter distance. A group of friends had decided to run Twin Cities as a fall destination event, and I decided to join. I trained for this while also studying for the Illinois Bar Exam, and the race fell about a week after I found out I had passed. I had put in the hard work, and had settled on a sub-4 goal. I had the best race of my life, never hit the wall, and grinned the entire time, crossing the finish at 3:49.
#4 Wisconsin Marathon – May 2013: Emboldened by my performance at Twin Cities, and wanting to capitalize on my fitness, I aimed high at Wisconsin, and hoped to qualify for the Boston Marathon with a time of sub-3:35. I went out too quickly, and started blowing up around mile 19, despite some intense crowd support from my friends (and mom). The course configuration was a nightmare for me: a double-out-and-back with 2-3 miles of crushed gravel roads in the last half. The final 10k was the stickiest tar pit I’ve ever encountered, and I fought to pick up one useless leg up after another. My eyes were glued to my watch as I watched my goal time disappear into the past. A photographer caught this series of photos over about 30 seconds around mile 24. The first photo was how I felt, and the last photo was how I wanted to feel. It was an Oscar-worthy performance. I drove home about an hour after the race, and tried unsuccessfully not to cry. I had been experiencing the middle stages of burnout towards the end of my training, and this only dragged me further down the hole.
#5 Grand Rapids Marathon – Oct 2013: This was supposed to be a comeback race for me. After a disappointing finish at Wisconsin, I wanted to qualify for Boston while I still had a good fitness level. This was the third marathon I ran in a calendar year, and I had no business running it. The short “break” I gave myself to recover from Wisconsin was completely insufficient. I started off with the endorphins of someone who had something to prove, but my training was further derailed by a toxic relationship: one that left me feeling so guilty and conflicted about my training that I started having panic attacks during long runs. A good friend had offered to coach me, and in my shame, I could barely respond to her encouragement, much less explain the reasons behind my implosion. I finished in 4:01, emotional and exhausted. My parents, who drove up to support me, brought me an old mug I got at the circus as a kid. I drank my post-race beer out of a lion.
#6 Chicago Marathon – Oct 2015: This brings us to now. I’m excited to put in the work, excited to feel the rush of a workout well done, and excited to cross my hometown finish line with the smile of someone who put in the work, and reaped the rewards. This time, I’m not just aiming to finish. I’m aiming to finish strong.
This marathon will represent the return to the streets of a city that has been a playground, that has chewed me up and spit me out, that has been the only home my adult self has known. It will be my third attempt at a flat, crowded course, which will take me past three old apartments, one current apartment, four past employers, one current employer, my law school, and countless other memories. It will take me through a wide swath of neighborhoods and cultures (Chinatown and Little Italy at like 9a.m. are not my favorite smells…), and will remind me of how generous this city’s residents are to its runners every October. I will see men dressed as cheerleaders (and possibly not wearing underwear), I will see families with water bottles and hoses in the empty miles of the last 10k, I will see Moody Bible Institute out in full force with their gospel, I will see countless groups manning water tables, I will see my name on a sign of support from my current employer as I cruise past, I will see the leaves of Lincoln Park changing, cross the Chicago river more times than I’d like, and laugh at all kinds of signs and costumes. Most importantly, I will climb “Mt. Roosevelt” and fly through the finishing chute with the pride and knowledge that I ran this race for me.
I’m comin’ home.