A Marathon Story

10/13/13. Chicago.

I stand in the cold, arms drawn in from sleeves, hugging torso. A jet blares through the sunrise. I shuffle toward a fixed point. Finally, finally, like a foal walking for the first time, my legs stretch, gain momentum, and reach for the next bit of ground. Repeat. Repeat. Pete and Repeat were on a boat. Pete fell off. Who was left?

Repeat. Only 55,331 steps left to go.

There are skyscrapers lifting me upward. It’s hard to keep my eyes on the road. So many smiling faces to gaze upon. I love these people. They cheer for me, urge me to take precious water, thrust their babies toward me for the gentlest of fist bumps. I am a conquering heroine. I am one buffalo in an inconceivable herd.

The ground becomes sticky. Gatorade sucks my soles into the pavement. I glance up, and the retirees waving from windows free me, draw me skyward again. I float above the concrete, wearing a grin so large it may resemble a grimace. They keep calling my name. Not one of them says, “Run, Jennie, run!” So, I love them more.

Parks. Houses. Elvis on stage in purple velvet. All is as it should be.

Families. Signs. Bells and clappers and the hum of a vibrant city. This is what it means to be alive. I have hacked into Chicago’s veins and I am pulsing through her.

Pain. Ah, so this is how old knees and hips will ache. Storm’s a-comin’, children – but shelter is so far away. If I can’t outrun the storm, I’ll find the eye and run there. Find peace in the pain. Offer it up to something I may not believe in. Believe now. Count to 100. Pete and Repeat. Count to 1,000. I watch the faces as I pass. I crave their support on a level so primal – I am so inexpressibly grateful that I am not here alone – that I imagine being handed food inside a starving refugee camp. I want to hug these strangers and kiss their hands.

18. 19. 20. Harder with every mile.

21. A tap on the shoulder. My husband has appeared, and I am so glad, so glad, but I have moved beyond surprise. Of course we found each other in a sea of 45,000. We’d already found each other in an ocean of 7 billion. We lock hands like tectonic plates. We grind on.

22. 23. 24. Dragons in Chinatown, dancers and trumpets down the street, puppies and engagements popping up all around. We’ve reached the epicenter of what makes people happy. Who can walk when surrounded with so much joy? They clap, holler, sing. Not for me. Not for us. For themselves, for human nature, for this shared, beautiful insanity. We are dumb but we are lucky. You better believe we run.

25. 26. Now, we surge. Our pace is slow but our steps are mighty. Gone are the dry sobs wrenched out at every impact. Now, feet have found the stairway to heaven. Up a hill, around a corner. Faces we know. The finish line we want to meet.

0.2 We arrive. Medal, blanket, protein shake, photo. Everything received with my heart overflowing, but all I really want is a place on the grass. The sun bathes me in warmth and light and I drift. Happy, relieved, unsure what it means but wanting to be there. Our others gather around us. Everyone is accounted for. The family is whole again.

Refuge. Food. Bed by 7:00. Unable to sleep for the aches, but tonight the prospect of staring into darkness, contemplating, feels exactly right. Everything is simple, every emotion has a home, and every dream lies within reach.

This was my first and last marathon.

Photo credit: Nam Y. Huh, AP

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56 responses to “A Marathon Story

    • Thank you, Noelle! You were one of the runners I read during my training, so you’re on my list of inspirational people. I thought of you when I bought XL sweatpants, too! πŸ™‚

    • “Marathon by osmosis” is such a great phrase, and I’m so glad you felt that way! I just couldn’t lay the story out all cut and dry… the experience was anything but that.

  1. Congratulations, girl! That’s seriously amazing, and major props to you. I’ve never run a marathon, but you described it beautifully, even the painful parts.

    Also, are you local and I didn’t know this? Or did you just come in for the marathon?

  2. So beautifully written Jennie. As the oldest in the family that ran with you…you have captured in your words, every moment I / we felt too! It truly was the fans of Chicago that kept me going when I wanted to quit. What surprises me though, is that no matter how well one trains, the body is going to react the way it wants, the way it needs to under these conditions and you have no control over it. I am thankful to know that MY body cannot endure another 26.2 race…a 13.1 yes!!! So lets get a planning!! Much love.

    • You were so resilient. I’ve been telling your story to everyone who’s asked about the race. It’ll be a very cool thing for the someday-gandkids to know about their grandmother. πŸ™‚

      I’m thinking the Outer Banks Half could be pretty great next year…

  3. Whooohooooooo super congratulations, MARATHONER…. whooohoooo!!!!!! I bet it wont be the last, let the pain fade, let the emotion rise, let human nature take over again! Beautiful post, as always!

    • Yeeehaw! And thanks! But you know… while many people have said what you said – that I’ll have the bug for them now – I really believe this was my first and last. It’s not about the pain, it’s about wanting it to remain a perfect moment, with no comparisons to be made. I will be running plenty of half marathons in the years to come… but I think this one 26.2 was, for me, enough. As always, of course, time will tell. πŸ™‚

  4. Your ability to place your readers ‘by your side’ as you write is wonderful. I just ran my first marathon…by your side! I can’t wait to experience more adventures!

      • Thanks so much for the kind words. I love running marathons because I always learn something from the experience; I think one of the lessons this year has to do with managing expectations–never an easy thing for me to do. We’ll see if it sticks…

        I hope your recovery is going well!

  5. Truly, truly a journey in words. I only wish I could have done it myself! Growing up in a running family, I often heard from my dad “I’ll never run another marathon again.” I’m afraid he couldn’t help himself and ran many, many more after that statement. Boston was our race and I have warm memories of my dad and his many friends training for it and many others in the Northeast. In those days, you could actually drive the course! Anyway, keep your marathoner’s heart: that is what makes this sport unique!

    • Boston is such an achievement. How proud you must have been to see your dad run at that level! This experience has definitely inspired me to go spectate at more local races, because I know now how much it means to the runners.

  6. Congratulations on your stellar achievements – running the marathon AND taking us all with you! I LOVE the feelings that come with intense physical exertion, and the blur of the crowds, telling myself to go on, – all of it. I haven’t run in a while bc of allergies but am about to take it up again. Haven’t ever run more than ten miles though. You make me want to get back out there!

    • I somehow missed that you’re a runner! Oh, I’m glad your time of year is finally coming. I myself am a horrible wuss about the cold and keep my training all-indoors in winter, but I deeply respect your commitment. There really is a gritty magic in purposefully setting up experiences that make you challenge yourself in such a visceral way. It’s why I also love wilderness backpacking. Oh, and hey! 10 miles? Still a very far distance to push!

      • You didn’t miss it; I never mentioned it, I suppose bc I haven’t run for awhile. I’ve just been doing yoga, working with a personal trainer and trying in general to be active. But lately I’ve wanted to get back out there, and so I shall!

  7. This was beautiful. “This is what it means to be alive. I have hacked into Chicago’s veins and I am pulsing through her.” is a sentence I wish I had written. Congratulations

  8. Jennie, how wonderful! I was thinking about you that day … wondering. Congratulations! I’m gobsmacked that you and your husband found each other at that point in the race. Kismet. And as always, so beautifully written. All the best, Terri

    • Terri, you have such a good memory. I can barely keep the dates of my own life straight! Thanks for thinking of me last Sunday, and yes – kismet, indeed. I love the ways that man moves in my life. πŸ™‚

  9. Mile 21 is my favorite description of yours. But: never say “never”, my dear – ’cause you just never know… πŸ™‚

    Big congrats!!

  10. Ahhhhhh!!!!! I was SO excited to read this post – as if the act itself didn’t blow me away, then you go and write THIS. This might be one of my favorite blog posts. Ever.

    “Of course we found each other in a sea of 45,000. We’d already found each other in an ocean of 7 billion.”

    That was ridiculously romantic. Your hub is a lucky man.

    You are my hero – but I am glad it’s your first and last. That shiz be crazy. Congratulations, Jennie!!!

    • Jules! You rock. Thanks for the excitement and feedback, which means a lot. I really enjoyed writing this one! And yeah… he’s lucky. But I am the luckiest. *ooey gooey puddle melt* πŸ™‚

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  13. WOW! *sigh* One day…perhaps. But not until I have an unbusted knee. Hats off to you πŸ™‚

      • I made my ten mile goal, then later the same week undertook an 8.5 mile with added hill sprints. And somehow, something started hurting and continued to hurt and got worse and worse and worse and is only now beginning to heal. In the meantime, no running.

        • I. Hate. That.

          Did you see a sports doctor? I got some stellar advice from mine. I never got past 16 miles without my IT band killing – I mean intense pain at every step – which is why I’ll never do another marathon… but I believe his advice kept me from injuring myself long-term.

          • I saw a normal one who sent me for an xray in case it’s a hairline fracture, so I’m still waiting on results but tbh, it’s begun healing by itself just through lack of use. So I’m pilates-ing it up and sticking with low impact and dieting for the moment until I can do a bit more cardio and get my stamina back.

  14. I loved reading this. I have so many friends who go through this but, though I have tried, I have not gotten past a 5k lol. Congrats!!!!!!

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