A few days have passed since my run at the Chicago Marathon, and I can tell you that my perspective has changed quite a bit already.
Immediately following the race, my first thoughts were, quite frankly, of bitter disappointment. With a bit of distance, I’ve come to think of the race in a very different way. Focusing on just those five hours is truly missing the forest for the trees. I am not a competitive runner whose livelihood depends on my ability to turn in world class times. I’m a dad. And I’m a husband, and brother and a son and a friend. The people that matter to me don’t care a bit about what time I turned in or if my splits were solid.
Now that I released some of the venom about what happened on Sunday, let me take a few minutes to tell the whole story, this time without skipping the parts that really matter.
I am a person who hates to be late. It’s a pet peeve of mine, so even when no one else is involved, I tend to leave plenty of time. So on race morning, I got up and began the journey down to Grant Park (no so) bright and early: 5:45AM. At that hour, there are only three sets of people up and about in Chicago.
- The fire department. Between my hotel and the subway station was a fire station. As I walked by, a fireman was standing outside and wished me luck. Heck, if you’ve got the fire department on your side, how can you go wrong?
- Hookers. Yep, two ladies of the evening yelled, “Good luck, runner!” The world’s oldest profession wishes luck to the world’s oldest activity.
- Other marathoners. When I got to the subway station, the platform was filled with other marathoners heading down to the start. Big smiles and well wishes were flying all over the place.
Once I got down to the start corrals, and took care of dropping off my equipment bag, I made my way into the area for those of us attempting to run a 4:00 hour time. It was very cool to watch the corrals fill up, slowly at first, then like an avalanche. In a five foot radius directly around me, I met runners from 6 different countries. I later read that 120 different countries were represented that day.
As the time grew closer and closer to the 7:30 start, I really started to get blown away by the experience. And when the loudspeakers announced that the elite runners were off and the Chicago Marathon had begun, there were tears running down my face. The sum of the effort and support it takes just to get to the start line of a marathon hit me full on, and I was just overwhelmed with gratitude.
It took me 15 minutes to get to the start from my corral. 15 minutes of build up. Stopping then walking, then stopping then walking, then finally, we began to jog just a bit, and then … it was on. What an absolute sea of humanity.
As I said in my previous post, my parents and two sisters had surprised me by showing up on Saturday night to watch me run. Let me be a little bit clearer about that. My parents live in Florida and so they had to drop what they were doing to fly to Chicago to make that happen. My younger sister lives in Cleveland and has a husband and three children of their own, yet she hopped on a plane to cheer for me. And my older sister actually cut short her vacation with her husband and friends to come out and support me. Amazing. Here is the t-shirt they made for the occasion.
I got to see my sisters and parents just before the 1 mile mark, and they were screaming for me. What an absolutely perfect way to get started.
This picture is of my younger sister (on the left) and my older son (in the middle), cheering me and all of the other runners on. They had a great time and loved shouting encouragement to people, especially when the runner had their name on their shirt. I need to remember to do that next time.
Then, not even half a mile later, I got to see my wife and two boys also cheering their hearts out for me. Here are a couple of the signs my kids had made.
Don’t share this little tidbit with your kids, but one of the funniest signs I saw along the route was one a woman was holding just after the halfway point: “Halfway in is sooooo sexy.” Lots of chuckling was heard.
After my knee started acting up, I made a bunch of stops to try to stretch it out and keep it loose. At one point while I was stopped and stretching, I looked to my right to see another runner also stopped. He was smiling away as he was adjusting his prosthetic running leg. Talk about perspective. It was then that I told myself, “You’ve got nothing to complain about. Get your ass back out there and get going.”
Along the rest of the marathon, I knew I would need to keep my spirits up in order to make it the rest of the way due to the pain. So I made it a point to talk to people when I could, check on other hurting runners, and thank the volunteers at the water stations. That seemed to keep my spirits up a bit. Another treasure to tuck away for races in the future, injury or not.
With about three quarters of a mile to go in the race, my knee locked up for the final time. I moved to the side to start walking, when some gracious runner patted me on the back, gave a huge smile and said, “C’mon man! Less than a mile to go!” Whoever you are, thank you. I got running again and was able to experience running across the finish line at my first marathon.
I had no idea that making your way from the finish line to your waiting family was going to be such a journey. But the result in the end was so worth the trek. When my wife and kids and I finally saw each other, they did the running. They ran over and tackle-hugged me and told me how proud they were. I literally felt ten feet tall.
Here I am, a marathoner at last, after finding my family and finally able to smile a bit.
One last, but very important thing. I know how emotionally spent I was when the marathon was over, and really, I know it will still take a while to get over the disappointment of the actual performance. But the encouragement, congratulations, and incredibly kind words from my family in person, my friends at work and online, has really been the trigger to help me see this for what it is. Running a marathon is a gargantuan task taking many months of preparation, dedication and sacrifice. But the real meaning of the marathon is not the time you run. It’s the people you affect and the people that affect you. It changed me in a very deep and profound way, and no one, and no single performance, can ever take that away.
Two final pictures. The first is a sign my kids made to cheer for me, and the edit they made when it was over.
And finally, the Post-It note my younger son left for me yesterday morning. I found it on the door leading out to the garage as I was heading out for work.