Oh Chicago! A normal race recap doesn’t do this race justice because this race wasn’t about racing at all. This race was about heart. From the top of Machu Picchu Mountain in Peru to the finish line in Chicago, Jerry has been telling me that this race was about loving the marathon. I always believed him, but I took creative liberty to define “love” how I choose. At times love meant fast. At times love meant a personal best. At times love meant taking one too many photos on the trails.
After a perfect peptalk, Jerry sent me off to Chicago with one goal: ENJOY THE RACE!
I had a conference just north of Chicago the week prior to the race. Recently Operation Smile was accepted into an organization called PQMD (Partnership for Quality Medical Donations). It is a collaboration of nonprofits and corporates to establish and execute best practices of medical donations around the world. The meeting was filled with amazing people and organizations – people and organizations that are changing the world. I left the meeting on Thursday filled to the top with excitement and passion. It sharpened my focus at work, and gave me clear perspective on what is next. Not at all a bad way to approach marathon weekend.
Christian met me in the city along with a few favorite friends, and the next few days were spent eating, drinking, laughing, and taking in the sights of Chicago.
And then there was the marathon. This was my slowest marathon by far, but it was also my most enjoyable. I took my time. I took in the city. I felt the excitement. I embraced the marathon. It was when I sat back, and allowed myself to flow with the never-ending crowd of runners that I truly understood what Jerry meant when he told me this race was about loving the marathon.
This race was about embracing myself.
This race was about embracing Chicago.
We left grant park and got pulled to the magnificent mile. I spotted Christian at mile 1.5 (earlier than I expected) and was more than happy to steal a kiss. I couldn’t keep my eyes from looking up. Running between the skyscrapers was amazing. At mile 2.5, I saw Christian again. One more kiss to send me north of the city. It was in the miles that took us north that I allowed my heart to settle. I just wanted to feel the entire race.
I allowed myself to be embraced by groups of runners. I allowed myself to observe the race. I allowed myself to slow down. This race was a constant flow of happiness.
My body started to fatigue around mile 14 (after another hello from Christian). I felt the lack of miles in my training, but my heart stayed happy. I gave myself permission to slow down even more. I checked on runners who looked like they were struggling, I high-fived spectators, and I kept going.
As I ran through one of the 29 neighborhoods, I saw runners in front of a building waving. I looked towards the direction of their hellos. We were running by a nursing home. Every window had a smiling face cheering us on. I waved hello too.
I meet a group of runners from Boston. We chatted about favorite races. They couldn’t stop raving about a race they ran in Virginia: the Harbor Lights Half Marathon directed by J&A Racing (my running coach!). They told me it is the only race they haven’t unsubscribed to emails from because they want to run it again, and he was quick to tell me they never run the same race twice.
As I made my way down through the final miles, I spotted a familiar face, Michele from NYCRunningMama. I only know her because I’m a fan of her blog. I hesitated before I said hello. Maybe I should just keep going? But this contradicted my entire plan to embrace the day. I quickly made my way across the street and introduced myself as a creeper. Before I could even finish my hello, I heard someone else shout my name. Just on the other side of Michele was Jess (from Paceofme) who has become a friend near and dear to my heart. I spent the last few miles catching up and laughing some more.
Before I knew it, the marathon was over. My heart was ten times bigger and 100 times lighter than when I started the race. It’s all still a blur punctuated by some really amazing moments. I can’t stop smiling when I think of this race. I feel so content, happy, and satisfied.
This race and this trip to Chicago brought me back to a place I’ve been chasing for two years. It gave me my love back. I have some really big running goals, and I can’t even begin to express how thankful I am that my running coach recognized exactly what I needed (even when I begged to focus on speed). I needed to slow down. I need to embrace this race. I needed to polish my heart.
Mission accomplished! I finished this race ready to do it all again. I can’t wait to add another layer to my training. The Chicago Marathon just gave me the foundation I needed.
My love of the marathon is back!