Back in January, when we packed up the holiday decorations and talked about the year ahead, we decided to make a list of goals for 2010. Charlie began toying with the idea of running a marathon and jotted it down on his list. At the time, I couldn't fathom the idea of running a whole marathon. It seemed like an impossible distance. I had always been one of those people to shake my head and say, "Why would anyone want to run a marathon? Why would you choose to put your body through that? Running a few miles is hard enough!" But after a random long run last year, I knew I could handle 13.1 miles, so I wrote half-marathon down on my list of goals. Over the next few months, I couldn't stop thinking about the full marathon. I knew if Charlie was training for it, I would regret not training for it too. And with the encouragement of great friends and Charlie, I decided to go for it.
I've never thought of myself as a runner. I was first introduced to running when I began playing soccer. Conditioning days felt like a necessary evil, never anything I really enjoyed. Later in college I would run a mile or two around campus and signed up for a few 5Ks, which at the time seemed like a very long distance to run. After college I began running more, but never more than 5 or 6 miles at a time.
In May we began training in earnest, following our plan everyday and before I knew it, we were running further than I ever thought I was capable of running. And not only were we running long distances, we were running them well, staying injury free, and focusing on the task at hand. We had tough weeks when the heat and humidity were impossible, or days when we just weren't feeling it and skipped our runs. On some runs we split up, others we ran side by side. And each month we crossed off the days. May, June, July, August, September. Then, October. 10.10.10.
Yesterday we rose before the sun. We sat quietly at the table with big glasses of Gatorade, bananas, and peanut butter toast. We tapped our feet anxiously. We went to the bathroom 100 times. We checked our backpack to ensure we had all of our gear. Then we tied our shoes and left the house. We rode the el downtown, the cars packed with other runners.
We arrived at Grant Park and followed the masses to the start line. We snapped off one last photo with my mom and step-dad before hugging them goodbye and lining up with the thousands of other runners.
The marathon was more exciting and less predictable than I expected. There were great miles and horrible miles. We started off on a strong note and the first few miles clicked off in a blur. We couldn't believe the incredible spectators that lined every street of the course. We would round a corner to the roar of the crowd and feel our spirits soar. And every few miles we'd hear our names shouted in the distance and see our friends or family waving wildly. It was the biggest boost to see some familiar faces among the masses.
The first 15 miles went like clockwork. We were, to the second, on pace to meet our goal time and feeling great. We had been warned about hitting the wall at 20 miles, but it arrived early for both of us. Shortly after passing the 15-mile mark, the thought that we still had more than 10 miles to run nearly killed me. The temperatures had soared way above a comfortable zone and hydration had become a problem. We could drink water and Gatorade, but our bodies couldn't process it fast enough to cool us off. So instead we remained hot (so hot) and running with full stomachs. I never spoke the words out loud, but what I really wanted to do was quit. I wanted to walk off the course and sit down. But I dug deep and kept my feet moving. The only thing that kept me going at that point was knowing that if I ran, the sooner I would be out of the heat. And this is why this photo is so important to me.
This photo was taken between mile 21 and 22 as we made our way through Chinatown. This photo is proof to me that we are all capable of more than we think. At mile 15 I didn't think I could go any further. And here I am, six miles down the road with a smile on my face. I was feeling great and renewed with a sense of confidence that we could do it.
Those last 4.6 miles were not easy ones. So many runners were succumbing to the heat and we were doing our best to keep running. We used the water stations as our moment to walk, to drink, and then we ambled on. At times the only thing keeping me going was knowing that if I kept running, I would soon enough hit another aid station to sip some water.
As we rounded the 24th mile, Charlie turned to me. "Let's finish strong. Let's do this." So we pushed on running our hardest. We crossed the 26th mile mark and began climbing the hill, the final .2 of the course.
The last 400 yards were all mental. My mind pushed my legs on and kept them moving. As we approached the finish line, Charlie grabbed my hand and we raised our arms over our heads. And then the tears began to flow and I was engulfed in relief.
And since then I've been trying to wrap my mind around the fact that it is over. It doesn't seem real that the marathon has passed. I can say without question that the marathon was the hardest thing I have ever done physically or mentally. I find myself wishing the weather had cooperated and been more comfortable, but I know we did the best we could under the conditions. I don't know when we will run our next marathon, but I'm pretty sure this won't be our last.
The marathon taught me that I am capable of way more than I ever gave myself credit for. My mind and body are strong. I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. I can go further, harder, and faster than I think. I can set a goal and meet it. I can maintain a positive attitude in tough times. I have confidence in myself. I enjoy running. And I know this: If I can train and complete a marathon, YOU can complete a marathon. I never considered myself a runner and now I think I can say I am a marathoner. And so can you. Don't be afraid. Aim high and dig deep. You are capable of great things.
If you're thinking about training for a half or full marathon, check in later this week when I share what worked for us while we trained.
Special thanks to my mom and step-dad for all of the photos they took and running like crazy all over Chicago to see us five times along the course!