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.