I couldn’t contain the overwhelming emotions in those subsequent few hours and was for the first time in years, if ever, incredibly proud of something that i’d accomplished. I was officially a runner. My legs felt like butcher knives had been shoved in them and my entire body was sore, but it was the best feeling in the world. Fast forward to last weekend and I did it again, racking up my tenth marathon finish in strikingly identical fashion. With my legs feeling much stronger and my shoulders arched high, i’m already thinking about my eleventh.
I’ve learned so much about myself over the years and have had true moments of epiphany while running. But i’ve also enjoyed as many instances of having a whole lot of simple fun and celebration of all things good and special. The list goes on and on, but I want to share some of the quirkier ones in this space, so here goes:
Expos make me kinda nervous. Big marathons have big expos where runners go to pick up their bibs and timing chips the day before the race. Inevitably, there’s also tons of vendors there wanting to sell their wares. Other races show up and try to get runners to make their’s the next big event. The music is loud, there are typically tons of people, and the whole gig can be too much for me. My good running friend Mrs. Murie loves them and demanded that I take a picture for her in Chicago. I obliged.
Staying downtown is always a good idea. Destination races are my favorite, and the bigger the better. Even though my times are slower than average, I want to be on the grand stage in the middle of the action and there’s no more enjoyable way to do that than a weekend trip to run a marathon. Chicago never disappoints. We stayed right on the course at the beginning of mile two with a view of State Street and the famed Chicago Theater outside of our hotel window, making it possible for Todd to watch the entire race from the 25th floor. The city was alive with runners the entire weekend. I was able to walk to the starting line just a few blocks away in Grant Park, flanked by the Magnificent Mile on one side and Lake Michigan on the other, making Chicago one of the coolest cities in the world.
Runners like to eat. While in town we had great meals every night. Friday dinner was with our friends Nancy and Michelle who live in Lincoln Park at an Italian place, Cocello. Rich with mahogany and ambient lighting, it was the perfect mix of local flavor and decadent surroundings. For pre-marathon dinner on Saturday night we went to a small plates restaurant in Boystown with a great menu of protein and carbs and copper mug cocktails. The vibe was celebratory and the waitstaff was super friendly, even sending us home with desserts in mason jars. Sunday night post-race we ate at a high-end steakhouse, Sepia, and were pampered with five courses. I almost always have one glass of white wine the night before a race, but this year I couldn’t resist a moscow mule.
Forty thousand runners become best friends really quick. When I got down to the corrals I didn’t know a single soul, but instantly felt like I was amongst friends, as people were sharing stories and good luck wishes. That vibe lasted through the entire race, including the estimated 1.4 million spectators along the route. They held any number of encouraging and hilarious signs, most of which i’ve seen many times before, but my favorite from this year was “all toenails go to heaven.” I’ve been lucky to never lose one, but I know plenty of runner who have. The camaraderie amongst total strangers is a wonderful feeling. It’s probably different in the front with the competitive people, but that’s not where I find myself, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Some tunes were made for runners. I didn’t take an iPod on the streets of Chicago, but I almost always have headphones in my ears, listening to a carefully crafted playlist that changes frequently. Recently i’ve really been picking up the pace when I hear “The Wind” by Zac Brown Band, “Happy” by Pharrell, and “Let’s Have A Kiki” by Scissor Sisters.
Every mile gets better, but I really like mile 18. I don’t know why, but things really start cooking. It’s fun to know that i’ve gone 18 miles and still have quite a bit more. My legs don’t typically hurt yet, but I can start to feel the strain and know what’s coming. There are huge crowds everywhere, but the folks at mile 18 are exceptionally supportive and fun. I’ve never regretted a race, and once I make it that far I know I’m going to finish.
Postrace hurts. So. Good. There’s really no other way to explain it, but pain is a very real part of the overall experience. So are medals. And beer. And nachos. And more beer. There’s a definite adrenaline surge that lasts well into the night, and once it wears off the pain hangs around for a little while longer. I can’t explain how it feels, but it’s definitely physical and mental at the same time.
Local races are great, too! As much as I love running the big city weekend events, what I really love is simply lacing up and running anywhere that I can. Northwest Arkansas has excellent events all year long, and I circled a new half marathon on the calendar as soon as I knew about it -- the Hero Half Marathon. The fire department sponsored it as a fundraiser for a few charities and relied on the local running community to help them pull it off. I knew it was going to be a great event by seeing so many awesome friends at the startling line -- Deanna Duplanti, Sarah Hood, Jeri and Darryl Hill, John Gheen, Katie Helms, Michele and Heather Diebold, Jerry Bailey, Michael Riha, Davey Bryan, and I was especially happy to see Beth Storey Bryan, who was running her first half marathon.
This event didn’t disappoint, with a course that highlighted the most beautiful portions of the local trail system and then ended with the most difficult and steep incline i’ve ever run in my entire life. It was short and explosive and straight uphill for the last fifty yards, hurting like hell and making runners beg for mercy. I can’t wait to run it again next year.
There’s always another race. With two months left in the year, I’ve got a few options for races before 2014 comes to a close. They may happen, they may not, but I feel great for the most part and would love to add another race, regardless of the distance. When I close my eyes at night in the quiet of my bedroom my thoughts vacillate between races past and races future, and I think I know why: never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that running would be what made me whole, but that’s exactly what has happened. For some bizarre reason running makes me feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and the tenth finish was just as sweet as the first.