So Sunday was the first Chicago Marathon I didn’t run in seven years.
Except I actually kinda ran it. Well, half of it. Sort of.
Matthew, who intercepted me last year at mile 21 when I was as close to death as Bristol Palin is to a dancer (or a star) and propelled me somehow to the finish through my fog of pain and delirium and stab-me-in-the-neck-and-kill-me-nowium, asked me to return the favor this year for him and our friend Taz. Except he asked me to meet them at the halfway point.
So on Saturday night I carb-loaded at a touristy Italian place with Matthew’s family and then made what was supposed to be a brief appearance at a joint birthday party where I only semi-socially know the birthday boys and their slowly-becoming-friendly-to-me circle of friends. I figured the party would be nothing but a sea of panic-attack triggers and I’d be cowering in my own bed an hour after I arrived. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t have a nice time. The guests were nice, the snacks were carby, the hours flew by … and I was a groggy mess when my alarm went off at 5:30 the next morning.
Stupid panic attacks. They never work when you schedule them to.
I got up, donned my running togs, loaded up on what ended up being not nearly enough food to get me through half a marathon, and joined Matthew’s family to cheer for the runners at the start and in Boystown and then I raced ahead to meet up with Matthew and Taz at the base of the Willis (née Sears) Tower, which is the last close-to-the-Red-Line location before the halfway point, where the marathon shoots straight west for a couple long, shade-free miles.
I was kinda pissed that the weather had been so gorgeous that morning; I’ve run the last six marathons in either extreme heat or extreme cold so of course the weather was perfect the year I didn’t officially run it.
And then of course the temperature spiked the moment I jumped in.
I was actually looking forward to running (and enjoying and even simply noticing) the second half of the marathon route this year. Normally by mile 17 I’m in my just-stay-focused-straight-ahead-and-run mode, so I miss out on all the festivities in the Mexican, Italian and Chinese neighborhoods the second half of the marathon snakes through. And since I was starting fresh at mile 13, I’d planned on enjoying a fabulous running tour of Chicago’s southside neighborhoods as I propelled my fabulous friends to the finish line.
Matthew and Taz were already hurting by the time I met up with them. And the spiking heat just undermined their motivation. So we ended up doing a lot of walking. Which was fine; it was their marathon and I was just there for moral support when they needed me. Unfortunately, there’s tons of photographic evidence that we not only walked parts of the marathon but we were walked parts of the marathon proudly:
We’re not completely shameless, though; we mustered up the strength to run—and even smile—when the photo ops were especially photo-oppy, like when they included Chicago Marathon-branded flooring:
But the fact remained that I’m still training for the New York City Marathon in November, and I was scheduled to run 12 miles the weekend of the Chicago Marathon. So at mile 23 when Matthew and Taz announced they were going to walk the rest of the way to the finish line, I asked if they’d mind if I abandoned them and ran ahead just to get some miles in, since they didn’t need me to help them walk.
They didn’t mind, and I took off running … and it suddenly dawned on me that I was kind of sprinting through the hardest miles of the marathon, possibly making the other struggling (and legitimate) runners around me feel bad about themselves. But there was only one way back, so I kept going, planning to jump off at mile 26, right before the course veers over a half a block to the finishers’ chute.
To my horror, though, I discovered that the last half mile was barricaded to keep the spectators away from the runners. And unless I ran backward down the course, I was kind of stuck on my road to runner prevarication. And when I got to the 26-mile marker where the runners turned toward the finish chute, I stopped and tried to find a way to sneak through the barricades.
And that's when it happened.
Someone yelled at me. Someone yelled something encouraging:
Don’t give up! You can finish!
And the goodwill of that stranger, a byproduct of my original goodwill to help my friends, suddenly made me feel as fraudulent as Christine O’Donnell writing a résumé. Except I’d actually accomplished something. Plus I know “I’m you” is code for “I’m too stupid and lazy to understand the issues too” and not the endearing term of solidarity she hopes her stupid and lazy voter base interprets it to be. Plus I had my shirt off.
Plus I’m obviously capable of feeling shame.
Fortunately, I found a break in the barricade (the barricade-erecting people obviously didn’t plan for people running friends in and needing a quick escape at mile 26) and there were thousands of legitimate runners on hand to distract the well-meaning crowd from taunting me with their encouragement.
And now that all the Chicago Marathon mania has died down—and all the volunteers who man the free Gatorade tables along the lakefront trail every Saturday in summer have packed up for the fall—I still have to train. All alone. For another month.
And I can’t wait!
I run 22 miles this Saturday then taper down to 15 and 8 the next two weekends.
And then—after four years of waiting—I’m finally going to be running the celebrated New York City Marathon. With no injuries (so far) and no worries about November temperature spikes (I hope) and a glorious 26.2 mile course to keep me entertained.
And I won't give up.