I spent the morning at the Chicago Marathon. Not running, just spectating. Yelling encouraging things as runners slogged past. We cheered in Greektown and Chinatown, both on the second half of the course. Of course, at that point, everyone who ran by needed an extra dose of motivation.
I saw marathoners with grim faces, bloody nipples, and sweat-soaked shirts. Then there were the calm, focused runners in meditative states. Being surrounded by all those sweaty, bloody, anguished/determined people might have turned me off. Instead, it seduced me. The fanfare, the camaraderie, the finish line, everything convinced me I need to run again.
And when I say run again, I mean another marathon. Not a half, not a ten-miler. I’m thinking big. Big, because nothing else can compare. I’m supposed to run the Hot Chocolate 15K in a few weeks, but I’ll have to scale back to the 5K (as soon as we started daycare, baby girl and I both came down with illnesses that lasted for a month, putting my training way off schedule). And while the Hot Chocolate race has gained in popularity since it debuted in ’08, it’s just not the same as the marathon.
Each year, the Chicago Marathon draws tens of thousands of runners, and more than a million spectators. It clogs the el and the expressways. When you run it, you’re surrounded by hordes of like-minded people. Like a parade, spectators line nearly the entire course. People you don’t even know cheer you on, yell your name, give high fives, offer water and Gu. Being a part of something so big is inspirational. Other, lesser races just aren’t the same.
It’s nice to have this grand ambition, but is it realistic? Here’s what worries me:
- If I can’t even stick to training for nine-point-three miles, how can I achieve three times that? Granted I was sick, but I’m better now, and I’ve opted to sit on the couch when I could be lacing up my Pearl Izumis.
- Can I bear to be apart from baby girl for all those hours of training? I left her at home today because bringing her out in crowds makes me nervous, and all morning, I found myself pulling up photos of her on my phone because I missed her.
- Will my foot hold out? I developed tendonitis toward the end of marathon training in ’07, and luckily, I haven’t had any flare-ups since, but I also haven’t been running 30+ miles per week.
- What if it’s like last time? My dreams of having a successful marathon were dashed in ’07, when the race was cancelled because of the heat and water shortages. True, I crossed the finish line, but I walked the last several miles (partly due to the heat, partly the pain from the tendonitis), and my race time was an hour slower than what I had hoped to achieve.
The smart thing to do would be to ramp up my training, complete this 15K, continue running, and reassess when it’s time to fork over the entrance fee. I should probably also enter a few more races, working my way up to 26.2 miles. Plus, I could always consider running in a different city. For instance, if I were to run in San Francisco, I wouldn’t have to worry about the threat of rogue October heat we contend with here in the midwest.
If you live in a city that hosts marathons, I encourage you to get involved. Less than 1% of the population will ever run a marathon, but nothing says you have to remain part of that larger percentage. If you can’t run it, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer. Or, do what I did, and cheer for a friend, or for anyone. All marathoners need encouragement, even the elites. Especially approaching “the wall,” around mile 20. Who knows, next year it could be me on that course, needing that extra push to keep going.