One year ago, on a Saturday night I made a decision. To watch the 2010 Chicago Marathon in person the next morning. In all these years I had never seen it live. Since I was running half marathons at this point I wanted to see what this marathon thing was all about. I had made no plans for race day. So, late Saturday I called my friend, Greg. Greg is not a a runner. He is not an athlete. He, is however, a good friend. Up until recently, he was the ONLY person to have come to watch me race. Ever. For that, I'm forever grateful to him. I never had family or friends waiting for me at races. But, Greg waited for me. Was happy for me. Was there to congratulate me. Hug me. Last year at my half marathon I told him to go home, go back to bed, after the start. Imagine my surprise when hitting the turn at mile 6, there was Greg screaming my name. I can't tell you how good that made me feel. To have MY name called. For ME. It carried me to the finish. No doubt
So, I called Greg. Asked if he wanted to meet me at 6:30 the next morning for the race. He said sure. He knew I wanted to go. He knew it was important to me. He knew he had to go.
It was a gorgeous, sunny, warm day. A spectacular fall day. However, a bit warm for marathon running. Greg and I positioned ourselves within the Loop. We zig zagged through the streets to catch about 3 sections of the race. I've been in some large Chicago Races (Chicago Rock n Roll Half Marathon , Shamrock Shuffle, Hot Chocolate 15k/5k ) with between 30,000 and 40,000 runners. But, I had never watched a race with this many runners. As the runners headed down State Street I was in awe at the number of runners. All the way up and down the street. Packed solid the entire width of the street. Running.
I couldn't do anything but stare at first. I couldn't even cheer. I was amazed. Humbled. Proud. I realized that I saw a little bit of myself in their faces. The old, the young, the fast, the slow, the fit, the fat. They were all me. Running. A friggin' marathon. I turned to look at Greg. Tears streaming down my face. He looked at me, smiled, and said, "You are going to run this thing next year aren't you?" I shook my head and said, "No way." Then I laughed. Looked at him again, smiled, and said, "I think I am"
We screamed our lungs out for these strangers. People we didn't know. But, faces I recognized. A neighbor. The woman working at Target. The non-athlete all his life now finding his mojo. A friend's college aged daughter. That guy in the bar. The father of 5. The breast cancer survivor. The veteran. The recovering alcoholic. The woman who left her husband but found her life. That guy who was tired of living a 300 pound non existence and now was flying past me at 180 pounds. I didn't know anybody running by me. But, they were SOMEBODY. They had a story. I didn't know it. But, I DID know that part of their story was that they were running the god damn Chicago Marathon!
Greg and I hit Mile 14. Runners were looking hot. It was indeed hot out by then. I was feeling for them. But, on they ran. They made me proud. We then hit mile 25. The look on the runners faces was incredible. They knew they were SO close. They could feel it. They could taste it. It was theirs. We finally ended up in the stands at the finish. I could barely keep my stomach under control. Watching all these people come in to the final feet towards the finish line was so touching. I wasn't running it. I didn't know anybody. But, I still felt an overwhelming sense of pride for these people.
We cheered them all in. High fived them. Yelled out the name on their singlet. Told them they were awesome. Then, all of a sudden, there coming right at me, is someone I knew. Running. Toward the finish line! Andi, a friend from St. Maarten, with the flag of his country St. Maarten (which became an official country on this marathon day!) on the front of his tee shirt. I had NO idea he was running the marathon. Of the thousands and thousands of runners this day. I saw Andi cross the finish! It was great!
We continued to watch runners finish. Some came in strong. Most were smiling. However, some came is struggling to make it those final feet. One man, in his 60's, was more than struggling. He was losing it. His legs. His body. He collapsed right in front of us. The crowd gasped. Greg and I started to cry. This guy was SO close to the finish. Mere feet. A race official came up, helped him up without assisting him. The man started to run. We all cheered. Loud. He went a few more feet and collapsed again. Runner after runner ran past him. They were finishing their race. They were completing their dream. As they ran by him. One woman in her 30's ran past him. Fifteen feet past him. Then stopped. Turned around. Came back. Picked this man off the ground. Put his arms around her slight shoulders and then CARRIED him over the finish line. This woman sacrificed her time to help him finish. Truly inspiring.
I was in awe of his courage to not give up. I was in awe of her act of generosity. SHE was the true winner of this marathon in my eyes. I was crying. THIS is moment when I was SURE I would sign up to run the 2011 Chicago Marathon. Because of this man. Because of this woman.
Four months later I sat on the computer at midnight. Refreshing my screen for one and a half hours to get my registration for the 2011 Chicago Marathon complete. Once it went through I was excited more than I can explain. However, I was also scared more than I've ever been in my entire life.
I had no idea how scary this journey would be. It was only the beginning.