Running a marathon (-training). Bank of America Chicago Marathon 2009.

Challenge yourself

On October 11, 2009 I ran Bank of America Chicago Marathon 2009. It was a somewhat abrupt decision to run, and it was definitely one of the most spontaneous quests that I’ve taken. At the beginning of summer I wanted to sign up but kept pushing off the date until one day (around end of May?) I came to Chicago Marathon website and the registration was closed, so I closed the webpage and was bummed that I won’t be able to run. Then, a couple of weeks before the marathon I kept hearing about a group of Lithuanians who will run the marathon, specifically marking Lithuania’s 1000 name anniversary. It inspired me but knowing that I haven’t registered on time I felt disappointed again. Then about 1 week before the marathon I thought I still CAN run, but without the registration and without the bib number. I am sure that such action would piss off other runners when I would get in front of them and grab a Gatorade cup, while it would be clearly evident that I am just a “bandit” (name for somebody who runs without registration). On Thursday night something finally clicked and I said to myself “I will run!”, but I just needed to find a way to get a bib number. I knew I will run, but I just didn’t want to be a bandit 🙂 You may ask “Don’t you need to train for the marathon?”, and the answer is “yes you do”. So Friday after work I went to gym and expected to run a half marathon (without training! A day and a half BEFORE the marathon!). So guess what, at the gym mile 7 left me breathless and I realized that if I continue pushing to 13.1 miles (half marathon) I will definitely not be able to recover in time for the marathon, which was 36 hours away. So I stopped at mile 7 and went home.  I stopped at my friend Jonas’ home and his fiance Laura said “You look so pale”. So pale I was. Anyway next day my legs felt a stiff after the 7 miles so thinking about Sunday was somewhat puzzling…. Hmm… marathon is 26.2, divide that by 7 (what I ran on Friday), so in less than 24 hours I will need to run almost 4 times as much. But I had other things to worry about that Saturday. I knew there must be runners who will not be able to run the marathon, so on Satruday I went on Craiglist and found somebody who wanted to sell their entry to the marathon. I took their paperwork and went to the Marathon Expo at McCormick and personally picked up a shirt, bib and other stuff. In Tribune I read that forecasted weather might help the top runners beat the world record of 2:03:59s achieved by an Ethiopian runner in Berlin 2008. I tried to use the idea of cold, yet sunny weather as much as I could to comfort myself. Saturday evening I did buy gloves and headmask to keep myself warm the next morning.

Sunday, October 11, morning 5:45am: I get up at Ramona’s home and my legs feel even more beat up than the day before. I make a real breakfast, 4 egss, toast with a ton of cream cheese. Get in the car and drive to Chicago. I arrive in the city at 7:20am and most streets in the Loop are closed. Starting time is 7:30am, so I rush to park the car on Wabash and head straight for the starting line on Columbus and Congress. Sun is nicely warming the weather, but it’s still only 32f (0c) outside. People are covered in bags, hoodies, jackets, etc. Slowly we start moving and by 8am I cross the starting line.

Mile 24 marker, just north of IIT campus, seeing all people run, music blasting somewhere, fans cheering on the side of the street… I throw away thoughts of pain in the legs and I push myself to run faster. In the last mile I am passing people faster than during the whole race. 4:56min later I cross the finish line and it feels glorious. The rest is history.

What makes something like that possible?

1.       Other runners: of all types, shapes, sizes and colors. Just being a part of large event like the Chicago Marathon (out of 45,000 registered runners, about 36,000 showed up for event), you have more adrenaline and energy than usually.

2.       Fans on the streets: they cheer, they encourage, they shout the name on your shirt, they scream, they high5 you, they bring water, they bring candy, they bring energy and most importantly… their energy is a source of energy for all the runners. Thank you fans and volunteers!

3.       Outliers: these are the people who run with prosthetic legs and other disabilities. When you see them, you feel so inspired to see them go beyond their limitations. This makes you feel like the least you can do is stop complaining about the pain and thirst and just keep going. It’s a very humbling experience and I salute all those people who go beyond their limitations.

4.       Environment: in this case it was weather. It seems trivial but I think it’s very influential. Running Chicago 1/2 marathon in 2008 was tough because it was raining the whole time. My body wasted a lot of energy just to keep me warm. On October 11, 2009 it was between 30-40f temperature with sunny day and that means my body didn’t need to sweat so much to cool down and also it didn’t need to work really hard to keep it warm.

5.       Mind: everything is relative. When in 2008 I ran Chicago Half Marathon, approaching the finish line (mile 13.1) was just as tough as approaching mile 26.2 at the marathon. Why is that? I think it’s a result of how we frame things in our head. So if I was running a 30-mile race instead of 26.2, that 26.2 marker would feel very different than what I felt this time, when I KNEW it was the FINISH line. Set you mind straight and know that it tends to limit you more than your physical body, so be mindful and take advantage of that.

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