The Chicago Marathon is now three days away. Three days! Although it will be my ninth marathon, there is just something so special about this one in particular.
There is of course something unique and special about every marathon experience, and like all marathoners, I have great stories to tell about all of them. What has made this marathon special though has already happened and will remain unchanged regardless of what happens on Sunday.
Training went well. I executed all my long runs on schedule and on pace. I did weekly speed sessions, some cross-training, and strengthening and stretching. Physically, I feel pretty ready, although I adjusted my goal slightly since I had some hip pain that sent me into PT early in the training cycle. I was hoping to qualify for Boston. I need better than 4:05 (or to run an average pace of 9:15 per mile) to do that. My marathon PR from 2014 is 3:57 and I also ran 4:05 in 2016, so theoretically…
Since I’m also signed up to run the Surf City Marathon on February 2nd, I’ve decided to use this to set me up for a better performance there. I ran my fastest 5k in three and a half years last Sunday, so I’m certainly ready for a strong performance. If I can run at a consistent 9:30 pace, avoid hitting a wall, and finish strong and in one piece, I’ll consider it a fabulous day.
But, as I said, what happens on race day doesn’t matter. It’s already been a fabulous experience! When I first sensed this odd pre-marathon satisfaction, I thought maybe it was age or experience that gave me this perspective, and certainly that may be part of it.
My perspective as an older runner is that goals change; what you want out of running changes; being competitive – even against yourself – is not as important as it once was. But I see the young people I’ve been training with all summer embracing the same pre-race celebratory attitude that I’m feeling and I realize it’s more than this too.
The first two major factors that set this year’s Chicago Marathon apart for me are the people and the place.
This year, “marathon season” for me involved connecting with lots of runners. I wrote about some of them last week. I’ve never before felt so strongly that we’re all in this together and that maybe it really is more about the journey than the destination.
The majority of my training time was spent with the group I was first introduced to over three years ago when I came here as a visitor. 3Run2, was so welcoming and supportive. They are an urban running crew founded in 2013 and growing every year. 50-60 people show up for the Thursday night group runs in Logan Square all summer long and tonight – Marathon Thursday – there could be 200 present as we play host to runners from all over the country and the world in town for the marathon.
It was the core group of 3Run2ers training for the marathon who had me waking up (excited and motivated!) at 4am on Saturday mornings this summer for long runs on the Lakefront. As everyone ran their own distances and paces, high-fives on the fly-bys and the familiar black & white gear was a frequent sight. The reward was post-run picnicking in the park, and maybe a walk to the beach to cool off in Lake Michigan. As summer turned into fall and the sun was rising later and later, we ran in the dark. I’m ready for the marathon, but was holding on to these summer Saturdays as long as I could. Not quite ready to put an end to it just yet, Kurt and I will be running the 2-mile shake-out run hosted by this incredible crew – our crew – on Saturday morning.
It’s also about our city. Running a marathon you develop an affinity with the course. But for those of us who have been training here week after week, and live and work on these streets, on marathon day we are celebrating a more personal intimacy. The last time I ran this race, I was a tourist. This year, after living here for 15 months, I feel like I belong. These are my streets, too.
New York (1997) was my first marathon and it felt like my “hometown” race. I was familiar with most of the streets and neighborhoods for sure, but I lived in New Jersey. I’ve also run the New Jersey Marathon four times, but it’s down the shore and I’m from North Jersey. The Paramus Run went right past my house when I lived there, but that was a 10k, not a marathon. The street I lived on my first 14 months here – and my daughter still lives on – in Chicago’s Lakeview East neighborhood, runs between the marathon going north on N. Sheridan Road (at about 6.5 miles) and back south on Broadway (about 9 miles). I will be running past all the places I’ve shopped and dined, walked my dog and driven my car in the past year.
All the landmarks downtown are no longer tourist attractions along the course, but places that hold memories of other races and date nights and activities with my daughter. When the course goes south after Chinatown in mile 22 and turns around to finally head north to the finish, I can think about the long runs that went as far south as 31st Street…just focus on getting back to Grant Park! Visualization will be easy.
The third reason this marathon is extra special is Kurt. I’ve never before had a partner with whom I shared this journey. Last year, I was in the roll of coach (and support) for his first marathon. When I ran my last marathon (New Jersey 2018), he was in Illinois on the receiving end of text messages when I hit the wall at mile 19. This year we will both be on the course running our own races at different paces and with different goals. But wow, having someone to train along side, and talk race strategies and fears (and gear and nutrition and rest and taper…) has been spectacular!
While I am so excited for whatever experience Sunday has in store for me, for the first time ever, I am simply, and completely, satisfied with the journey.
Photo Credit for all photos: Micaela Bernal