On Sunday, I participated in the 17th Annual Chicago Half Marathon. According to the website, 13,859 individuals woke up really early, stumbled down to Jackson Park, anxiously waited in line for the porta-potties, and then, like cattle, herded themselves in corrals and waited for the gun to go off so they could run 13.1 miles on Chicago’s historic Lake Shore Drive. And we had all paid to do this.
This was my 29th race since 2006. Though not a significant number by any means, this race challenged me both mentally and physically more than most. I was running with my best friend, Emily, the person that really introduced me to this whole “jogging” thing (I think it’s pronounced with a soft j). As I quietly cursed her name while hobbling up to mile 7, I was thankful that she was by my side during the race, much like she has been by my side for most of my college and post-college life. As she took off at mile 9, it reminded me that I need to be better at speed training but also how much I will miss her (and all our friends) once Mike and I also take off in October.
During this race, I thought a lot about why I was running in the first place. Like most runners (I assume), I have a love/hate relationship with running. I love being able to lace up my shoes, walk outside and just go. Normally, I love that time by myself. I can think through problems, plan out my week, or just zone out and listen to what some would call “teeny-bopper” music. During runs I’ve sung out loud, solved world problems, laughed, and chatted with complete strangers. I love races. The nervous excitement prior to the race, the runner’s high and pride you feel at the end, and in those rare moments, the extreme happiness you feel after setting a personal best. On the flipside, I also hate running. There are times when I have set out to run 6 miles and have only made it 2, because I feel like I am running through wet concrete, with each step my legs get heavier and heavier. Sometimes the solitude on runs magnifies problems. I’ve cried during runs, cursed myself for thinking I was good at something, and have created more problems than solutions. Sometimes, I hate races. Hoping that you have trained enough, worrying if you are going to poop before the run (sorry, may be TMI, but anyone that’s either run themselves or lived with a runner knows how important that is), hoping the weather will cooperate, etc. All of this stress followed by disappointment because you’ve missed your goal time, either by 10 seconds or 10 minutes.
Overall, running has helped me become a better person. It has reminded me that if I set a goal, normally I am stubborn enough to achieve it. It has shown me that I can be one tough cookie, both physically and mentally. I have run races while sick (Flu, Chicago Marathon 2009), while wearing a tutu (Disney Princess Half, 2010), after quitting my job to start another new career (Nashville Half Marathon 2011), with a tear in my left hip’s cartilage (any race after July 2012), and now after a car accident (Chicago Half Marathon 2013). I’ve hit the mental “wall” many times and overcame it every time. Running has also confirmed, with no big surprise, that Mike is my biggest supporter. Though he hasn’t always agreed with all the insanity that comes with running, he has been there for every long run, every race, every let down and every victory. He has been my number one fan and I am forever grateful.
In many ways, I think running has unknowingly helped prepare me for this upcoming trip. I know there are going to mental and physical challenges along the way which I can overcome. I know that things are not always going to go the way I pictured or planned and I will be able to adapt and change in response. I know Mike will be there, cheering us along through our route. Though we may not be doing it simultaneously with 13,859 individuals, I know others have done it before us and survived and many more will accomplish this same feat after us. Finally, I know at the end of our journey there will be that wonderfully pure moment – filled with exhaustion, adrenaline, and sense of accomplishment knowing that we did something pretty awesome.