I accomplished the single hardest thing in my entire life yesterday.
My husband was aware that running a marathon was on my bucket list. I decided that this was something that needed to happen before a family got started, so I decided last December that I was going to run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon this year. He was surprised that I wanted to do it so soon, but said that if I was going to do it, he was going to do it with me. So, in January, we started training.
If you’ve never trained for a distance race before, let me tell you that it sucks away all of your time. Up until mid-August, I thoroughly enjoyed the training. I enjoyed waking up at 5:00 am in order to get five miles in before school, and spending my Saturday mornings in running shoes. Eventually, though, I began to miss hanging out with friends on Friday nights, or sleeping in until at least 7:00 am on Saturdays, or not limping through the rest of my weekend. On our longest run, a 20-miler three weeks before the marathon, my left knee shot out on me. We finished the 20 miles on it, and I spent the past three weeks running minimal milage, popping Aleve, and icing it like crazy. It seemed to be helping.
We drove to Chicago over the course of Friday night and Saturday morning, and there was so much buzz around the city over the race. I was excited and confident and just ready to have a fun time on Sunday. We got up at 5:00 am, got ready and caught our hotel shuttle to the blue line for a 450-minute ride, and got to the starting area a good half hour or so before our coral time.
Within the first mile, I could feel that my knee didn’t feel right, but that had happened in our 6-miler the weekend before and it eventually warmed up, so I thought it’d pass. And it did, to a point. We kept a spot-on pace at the start, but at the aid stations around mile 5, I asked Keith for some ibuprofen that we had brought in case my knee started causing troubles. It helped for a while, and we kept going. The race felt great, there was wonderful spectator support, and it was just wonderful.
Until mile 10, when this stab of pain went all around my knee and up my leg. Crap. This is only mile 10. I’ve still got 16 miles to go, and my knee just gave out. He wouldn’t let me give up, and I wasn’t going to give up, so we would run to the next mile marker, then walk for about a tenth of a mile, then run to the next mile marker, and so on and so forth. Even that became too painful before too long, and we stopped at the medical tent at mile 13. The medic gave me the most painful, agonizing massage of my life and had me ice my knee. She said that this one muscle in my thigh was shockingly, incredibly tight and where it connects to my bone was the exact spot on my knee that was the most painful. She asked if I wanted to finish, and of course I did, but I was crying by this point. We left the medic tent, and we agreed that our original goal finish time of 5:10 was no longer feasible or, more importantly, safe. We were just going to finish the race, ignoring time, running as much as possible. We ran two minutes, walked for thirty seconds, over and over again. My knee hurt the worse every time we started up the running again, but it would become to weak if I ran on it too long.
At mile 18, my right knee gave out. The exact same way as my left.
I cannot describe to you what it felt like to run on two injured knees. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever done, and I wanted to quit, but he kept me going, kept pushing me on. We eventually made our run-walk sequence more of a forty seconds running, thirty seconds walking pattern. We really pushed the running sections, because the marathon cut off at 6:30 and we had no idea how much time it was going to take us to finish like this.
At mile 23, although my knees were still hurting, I mentally got a second-wind, which was helpful because he was wearing down. We were so close, so very close…
God bless the people who cheer on the people struggling at the end of a race. I teared up more than once. This one woman, during one of the walk breaks when I was obviously limping, came off of the sidewalk and grabbed my hands and said, “You can do this. You will get better,” and said it with such ferocity and confidence. On one of the bridges, a lady was shouting out, “YOU’RE a champion! Champions don’t quit, and you are not quitting! You ARE a marathoner! YOU trained for this, YOU ran 20 miles, and YOU are a champion!” Another woman at mile 24 kept yelling that only two measly miles stood in my way. The things that these women said… I teared up. I’m tearing up now. It meant so much to me, to have people still believe in me. Most people were gone by the time we ran through towards the end, but there were more groups than I would’ve thought that were still there and were still cheering as loud as they could. The Greek, Mexican, and Chinese neighborhoods were so loud and rambunctious, and there were at least four churches that had come out in full force, shouting the most encouraging, uplifting things. On a funnier note, one sign said “You’re running better than our government!” and I found that extremely hilarious.
We crossed the finish line at 6:05:57.
On Saturday, one of my very good friends from Missouri Scholars Academy let me know that she was going to be one of the volunteers handing out medals, and that she would be on the lookout for me. The last thing I wanted her to see, after five or more years of not seeing each other, was me finishing a marathon at the back of the pack. I wasn’t going to look for her, but she found me and gave me my medal and a hug and was so encouraging. The fact that I am friends with the woman who gave me my medal makes it even more special. I am very, very glad that she sought me out.
Crossing the finish line was the more surreal experience. I felt so relieved, so exhausted, so exhilarated… all at the same time. He’ll say he just felt tired. 😛
We added up the amount of walking that we did, and although we couldn’t run the whole thing, it tallied out to running a bit over 23 miles. To me, finishing a marathon and running that much on screaming knees… although I’m not overly proud of my finishing time, I am proud of the fact that I finished. I didn’t quit, I didn’t give up, and so I can say and I will say that I ran a marathon, because I did.
I am part of the 0.5% of the U.S. population that has ran a marathon.