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“If you are losing faith in human nature go out and watch a marathon.”
- Kathrine Switzer
Oct. 13, 2013 – and the journey to get there – changed my life.
That day, I, along with more than 40,000 other brave souls, ran the Chicago Marathon.
And, during those 26.2 miles (and the 600 miles of training runs prior to the race), something inside of me changed.
That might sound corny to some of you, but it’s the truth.
I’m a different person today than I was when I began marathon training.
For months, I’ve been preparing my body, my mind and my spirit for the challenge.
I’ve drug myself out of bed at 4:30 a.m. for training runs.
I’ve cried during hot, humid 20-milers.
I’ve cursed during speed work at the track.
I’ve pushed my body – and my sanity - to the limits.
And every second, every tear, every aching moment has been worth it.
Because my journey has been about so much more than just running a marathon.
It’s been about learning how to love myself again and forgiving myself for my past mistakes.
It’s been about proving to myself that I am so much stronger than I ever imagined.
It’s been about accomplishing a goal that once seemed impossible.
And, it’s been about keeping a promise.
On Derby day of 2012, a fellow runner, friend and sorority sister, Sarah Beyer, was hit by a drunk driver. She was seriously injured in the crash. While she recovered in the hospital, I sent her a card and I promised her, in writing, that when she recovered I would train and run a marathon with her. Prior to her accident, she had always encouraged me to run a marathon, but I was always too afraid. I didn’t think I could do it, but she had the confidence in me that I could.
So, on April 16, the day after the Boston Marathon bombings, I was inspired to sign up to run the Chicago Marathon with Sarah. I was determined to keep my promise, but deep down, I was terrified.
My training officially began on June 9, but I did not go on this journey alone. Thankfully, I’ve had several amazing women to train with, cry to and bare my soul to during training runs. We have run more than 600 miles beside each other, which translates to almost 87 hours of time together on the road, on the track and on the treadmills at the gym. These amazing women have seen me at my highest and lowest moments. When I wanted to stop, they encouraged me to keep going. When I doubted myself, they recharged my spirit. They have helped me conquer some of my innermost demons that have haunted me for years.
Our love for running brought us together, and the friendship we’ve developed is real, raw and genuine… A true gift.
So, you see, before I even took one step at the Chicago Marathon, I had already won.
The day of the race was a celebration. My friends and I had already done the hard part. Race day was a day to celebrate our dedication, courage, discipline and drive. It was a day to celebrate life. And, I must say, the City of Chicago really knows how to put on a 26.2-mile party. I wish I could have recorded every second of it to show you because words just won’t do it justice.
There were a record number of runners this year (40,230 – 2,700 more than last year), despite the added security instituted after the bombings at the Boston Marathon.
That morning, my friends, Shelly Peterson, Jena Piekarski and I bowed our heads in prayer before we left our hotel room. And, although she didn't make the trip to Chicago with us, Sharon “Sam” Bach was there with us in spirit. She trained with us all summer. She was, by far, our biggest support system.
When we made our way out to the race festivities, we posed for a few photos, gave each other a quick hug and joined the thousands of other runners who had packed themselves into alphabetically assigned corrals (assigned by your estimated running pace). Then, we all anxiously waited for the race to start. It started in two waves. The first wave started at 7:30 a.m., and the second wave, which we were in, started at 8 a.m.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous. I knew I was ready. I knew I could do it. And I couldn’t wait to experience the Chicago crowd. My friends who had run the Chicago Marathon in the past said the crowd was amazing. Well, amazing doesn’t even begin to describe it. For 26.2 miles, the streets were lined with thousands of spectators, many of them holding posters, using noisemakers and cheering all of us on. The first three miles it didn’t even register to me that I was running. I was too busy taking in all of the sights and sounds around me. I wish I could remember all of the posters that I read along the route. I laughed out loud at one that said, “You run better than our government.” And, I got choked up at another poster that said, “This isn’t your practice life.” Those words really resonated with me. I was finally doing something that I had always dreamed of doing. I didn’t let fear hold me back. Running a marathon is something very few people ever experience. To reach the finish line in a marathon is to enter an elite group: only about one-tenth of 1 percent of the population does it. And, not only was I accomplishing a dream and keeping a promise, but I was also raising money for a cause that is so very near and dear to my heart. My friends and I were running as Girls on the Run SoleMates and we raised a total of $3,825 for the Girls on the Run program. Running the marathon as a SoleMate gave me that much more purpose and drive. I wasn’t just running for myself. I was running for all the girls – past, present and future - who will benefit from the Girls on the Run program. And many of the people I passed as I ran the streets of Chicago recognized my SoleMate tank top and cheered for me. Little girls gave me high fives and cheered, which gave me the energy to keep me going when I so desperately wanted to stop.
But, I never stopped. I never walked. I never quit.
I’ll admit, the last three miles were difficult. But it was more of a mental game than physical pain. Even when I reached the very last stretch and could see the finish line my mind was still telling me to stop. But, I didn’t listen. The feeling of utter joy, exhaustion and relief hit me when I crossed the finish line. I had just accomplished a dream. Literally.
And, as fate would have it, out of more than 40,000 people, my friend, Sarah, was the first person to greet me at the finish line.
It was no coincidence. It was meant to happen. It was meant to be.
BY THE NUMBERS
Finish time: 03:56:54
Average pace: 8:57 per mile
Place gender: 2,829 of 17,373
Place age group (30-34): 593 of 3,243
Place overall: 10,695 out of 40,230 runners
Male winner: Dennis Kimetto of Kenya won the marathon with a time of 2:03:45, a course record.
Female winner: Rita Jeptoo was the first woman to finish with a personal record of 2:19:59.