What a difference a year makes

The Bucktown 5k is Sunday. Kurt and I signed up months ago because we thought it would be a nice conclusion to marathon training. I had a coach that figured a fast 5k in the middle of the taper could serve to build confidence and give you something to focus your extra energy on without compromising the big race. So that’s what I do.

Additionally, I volunteered to coach a 5k beginner and returning group from Gilda’s Club at the beginning of the summer and when we looked at the calendar, the Bucktown 5k fell in a great place to serve as the “graduation” race. 

Gilda’s Club (for those of you who are just joining us), is a cancer support community for anyone living with cancer. Whether you are someone who has been diagnosed with the disease, or a family member or friend of someone with cancer, there is something for you at Gilda’s Club. They offer support groups, lectures and workshops and social events. The program provides members with social and emotional support, education, and sometimes something that is life-affirming and a bit of a diversion, like running.

The members of this group are all living with cancer in some way. They are members of the club because they have faced their own diagnosis or they are a supportive friend or family member of someone who has. I have gotten such great feedback from them about the program. For one woman who has run half marathons before but was derailed by her treatment, the program offered a safe and supportive space to deal with the physical and psychological limitations that are new to her. Another woman who is completely new to running is happy to have made connections with people on a similar journey and to be making progress on her goal to become fitter.

Truth be told, they have done something amazing for me. I have gotten so much personal satisfaction in seeing them doing the workouts each week and seeing improvements from one week to another.  But it’s also something else. And that story starts at last year’s Bucktown 5k, which I ran with Kurt.

Prior to that, I had run a number of races in Chicago, but they were all big city races. Bucktown is different. It’s a neighborhood race that had the look and feel of some of the races I was so familiar with in New Jersey. Last year, I stood in the middle of the field adjacent to the start/finish, surrounded by refreshment, gear check and sponsor tents, and lots of other runners, realizing that, besides Kurt, I knew no one. 

In New Jersey, I was a member and past-president of two running clubs, and worked events, too. I knew all of the regulars on the USATF-NJ race circuit – 100s of people honestly that I ran alongside for over 20 years. At that moment last year, I became overwhelmingly sad and homesick for my running friends and community back in New Jersey. I had only lived here three months.

In the last year, I had a meeting with the Executive Director of CARA (Chicago Area Runners Association), communicate regularly with their marketing and communications manager on social media and in-person at races, and I see and talk to their director of training at the track on a regular basis. 

In the last year, I also got my job at Fleet Feet and now see co-workers and customers on the lakefront trail, group runs, and at races. I’ve also been training for the marathon with Chicago Endurance Sports and have gotten to know lots of great runners, pacers and coaches. And of course, I’ve spent more time with 3Run2 who I was first introduced to over three years ago.

In the last year, I have gotten fully immersed in Chicago’s running community and feel so much more at home here. I feel with my Team Gilda 5k program I’ve begun to make my mark here too. This year, the Bucktown 5k will be very different. If I shed any tears this year, they will be happy tears. I am so proud of my group and all they have been able to achieve, and I am also so grateful to have this opportunity to celebrate with them on Sunday. We’re all in this together. And this year, I feel my together has gotten so much bigger.

Running and socializing among friends. 3Run2 Thursday night boulevard runs. Spring and Summer, 2019. Photo Credits: Micaela Bernal

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