On October 13, 45,000 people took to the streets, putting their bodies through a grueling 26.2-mile trek through the concrete jungle of the Windy City, and I was one of them. Finally, after months of training, the day of the Chicago Marathon had arrived. It was an exhausting journey filled with muscle-ache, Gatorade and snacks only runners could put down.
The night before the race I had everything planned out. Pasta dinner, check. Clothes and race number, check. Small runner’s fanny pack with my energy snacks, not the most fashionable, but check.
The only thing left was a long deep sleep. As I lay in bed, the only thing running through my mind was how much more training I should have done, and how embarrassing it would be to fail. I look at the clock and it’s 10 p.m. All of a sudden the months of training I had put in and the long hours running along Lake Michigan didn’t matter in my mind. Suddenly I was reeling in horror trying to decide how to explain my inferior athletic ability and how I didn’t even make it halfway before collapsing in a heap of disappointment and incompetence.
I look at the clock and it’s midnight. I try in vain to relax. I take deep breaths. I even count sheep. I got to 78 sheep. On one hand I’m surprised I stuck with the counting sheep idea for so long, on the other hand I curse the images of those soft fuzzy sheep and their inability to put me under.
I look at the clock and it’s 2 am. I wonder what my roommates are doing, as it was also the night of Boo Bash, our school’s beloved Halloween Party. Most of the school was out celebrating while I spent the evening watching “Family Feud” and eating whole-grain pasta. I hear some commotion; I think my roommates are back. Turns out it was just one, but he decides to pay me a visit anyway.
I look at the clock and it’s 3:15 a.m. He was in no condition to carry on a lengthy conversation and mid-sentence he remembered why I didn’t go out that night. He quickly apologized for the intrusion and slowly backed out of my room waving his arms and informing me that this encounter had never happened. His arrival must have put me at ease, because all of a sudden I was awakened to the buzzing of my alarm. I look at the clock and it’s 5:45 a.m.
I quickly get ready and grab some toast with peanut butter and honey… may I add this is a delicious way to start any day! I avoid the morning coffee like the plague; I’ve made that mistake before prior races. Let’s just say the mind isn’t the only thing it gets moving quickly. Interestingly enough, eight students from the class of 2016 had decided to run the marathon this year and we had all planned to meet at 6:30 at Buckingham Fountain near the starting line. And in true ICO student fashion, only six arrived on time and were able to participate in the group photo we had so meticulously planned.
Seeing the start of the race in Grant Park was definitely a wake up to the sheer size of this event. For weeks, I had felt so special telling people I was doing the marathon, like such an individual. Now, surrounded by 44,999 others, I felt insignificant, almost as if the entire city showed up to run and my participation held absolutely zero merit. The starting mass of people stretched beyond my view and continued for what was an easy quarter mile if not more. After a long wait with the ICO contingent, it was time for us to head to our starting corrals. It was a shame we couldn’t all start together, but when we registered we were assigned a start location. My colleague Steven Quan and I happened to be in the same section, which provided some nice company while anxiously awaiting the start. There are many types of people who partake in this kind of race and they were all out in full force. I saw the super-athletic, far-too-energized folk stretching and jogging in place nonstop. There were the people who carried more water and fluid with them than your average camel. Of course there were the incredible older runners who would soon enough all be passing me along the course. And of then there were those who made the mistake of having that morning coffee and were fidgeting nervously in the considerable lines for the bathrooms.
Before I knew it, we were slowly moving forward crammed in a huddled mass of warm bodies and slowly picking up speed. This was it, do-or-die time. No turning back now, just pace yourself and pretend it’s just a normal training run. I had done a few 17-mile runs, a 19, and one 20-mile run so this is totally doable right? Well truth be told, this was nothing like a training run. At least at the start, the amount of runners was staggering, but the amount of spectators to cheer on the runners was even more impressive! It was extraordinary; people of all ages yelling and cheering, telling you how awesome you are and sporting inspirational messages, and some not-so-inspirational messages that made you smile regardless. My favorite was a little girl at mile one with a big sign saying, “Worst Parade Ever.” Yes, small child, with thousands of sweaty bodies surrounding me, I couldn’t agree more.
Mile 1: Feeling on top of the world. The experience is still fresh and surreal.
Mile 2: Lost Steven amidst the crowds of people… only slightly because of his superior running abilities. Okay, maybe entirely because of that.
Mile 3: Loving the crowds and all the inspirational phrases like, “You run better than our government” or, “Smile if you pooped a little.”
Mile 4: A stranger was nice enough to be handing out small cups of cold beer… don’t mind if I do, a beer is basically carbs right?
Mile 5: Realizing that I have no idea where I am in this fantastically huge city.
Mile 6: Thinking that if this was a 10K I’d be done now… next time I’ll just do a 10K.
Mile 7: If I ran 7 miles in 1 hour and 5 minutes, then that’s 65 minutes. Divide that by 7 and… well, 9 times 7 is 63, and 10 times 7 is 70, so…
Mile 8: …So I guess that would make my pace closer to 9 minute miles than 10. Okay, so I’m two minutes out of seven into the next mile so what’s 2/7ths of 60 seconds…
Mile 9: Hey! There’s Jon Dong, a fellow colleague and dynamite photographer!
Mile 10: Wow, still 16 miles left, that seems frightening. Before I started my training a few months ago I couldn’t have even made it to this point let alone run another 16.
Mile 11: Frequently getting past by the elderly and those who look out of shape… how do they do it?!
Mile 12: That man is most definitely peeing on the fence as thousands run by, no one seems to care, good for you buddy.
Mile 13.1: Halfway… Woohoo! Sh*t only halfway?!!
Mile 14: I pass a man who is dribbling two basketballs the ENTIRE race! Now that’s dedication, I hope he shattered whatever record he was going for.
Mile 15: I think I’ll have a gu packet, a delicious thick paste of vanilla flavored nourishment… instantaneously dries my mouth out and tastes like Elmer’s glue. They need better tasting energy snacks for sure.
Mile 16: Take a quick break to drink plenty of water and Gatorade to wash down the previous paste.
Mile 17: My body is starting to struggle… this was a terrible terrible idea.
Mile 18: I will never run a single step again in my life
Mile 19: My right thigh has exploded and had taken on a mind of it’s own. I finally realize what a muscle fasciculation is… who knew a muscle that large could constrict against my will?
Mile 20: Contemplating yelling at any spectator that tells me I’m almost there… since when is 6 miles almost there? I’ve hailed a cab for far less distances; I’m also keeping an eye out for any nearby cabs.
Mile 21: Attempted to stretch cramped quad… leg decided to completely lock up and I almost fell over. Woman leaned over and told me I could do it! These words had no effect on my leg muscles. Further rubbing and stretching yielded poor yet manageable results.
Mile 22.5: Arrived at ICO on Michigan Ave. Seeing friends provides much-needed energy. Also my secret weapon is in the bag I had my roommate bring. A change of shirt and Miller Lite shotgun later, I’m feeling on top of the world.
Mile 22.6: The beer was a terrible idea, probably close to 1,000 people stream past me.
Mile 24: I start to notice a few nipple-bleeders run by… yeah that’s a real thing, ask any runner. Watch the episode of “The Office” about the 5K… hysterical.
Mile 25: Pace has slowed tremendously; the light at the end of the tunnel is near.
Mile 26: I feel like this should be the end, who’s idea was this last 0.2?! Why can’t we eliminate the 0.2 and make it a nice round number? I make a mental note to email that idea to someone later that day.
Mile 26.2: The sweet glorious finish line. My legs feel like jelly one moment, then rigid stilts the next, but nothing can keep the smile off my face. I had made it to the end. Four hours and 25 minutes later, I could finally call myself a marathoner.
The most frequent question people ask is, “Why?” Well, I have no real answer for that. I usually respond with, “Why not?” At least now I know I can. Would I run another one? For a week or so afterwards I would have said hell no! But now that I’ve recovered enough to write about it, I’m not so sure. They say once you run one marathon you get the bug. I’m still not sure if I’ve caught the bug, but if I ever decide to run one again it won’t be for a few years. I remember going out for three-hour training runs after classes, sometimes with an exam looming the next morning. I remember finishing my runs in the dark and having to study afterwards. I even had to hobble 5 miles back home after a rough day out after already having run 12 miles! All that training during such a busy school schedule was almost insane. My mind, body and grades all took a little hit, but overall it was absolutely worth it. Looking back at this quarter, what will I remember more–getting a B- in class instead of an A, or tackling the nation’s largest marathon with eight of the most supportive colleagues and 45,000 strangers? That’s a no-brainer.