Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Historical Marathon

For months, I have been training for the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training. I was running in honor of my dad who is fighting against lymphoma for his life as well as for my father-in-law who is battling leukemia. Our coaches with Team in Training were incredible. I was very prepared for race day and was informed as to what I should do to equip me to cross the finish line at mile 26.2.

I was astonished just after the half way mark to be informed that they were cutting miles off the course only to be quickly followed up by the cancellation of the race. I was highly disappointed because I was utilizing a run/walk strategy to get me to the finish line. Although conditions were rough, I felt hydrated and energized. I was looking forward to the moment where I would cross the finish line for both my dads.

The beginning of the race was tremendous. Intentionally, we started at the back of the pack to avoid the crowd as much as possible. Being cheered on by people we don’t even know was an incredible experience. As we ran under the first viaduct, we read a banner hanging up reading “You Inspire”. This was not just for my dads, it was also a personal goal I had made and looked forward to finishing.

It was exciting to have my brother and some of their friends at the starting line. Soon into the race, I was cheered on by one of my very best friends and her husband who had made a day of it in the City for me. As we turned one corner on the course, I heard my sister and her family shouting our names. My husband’s sister was cheering me on later in the race as well as his cousin and her husband. This is where my marathon experience was cut short. The course was cut off and we were instructed to walk – not run with the masses back to Grant Park. Thankfully, this was the point where Rod and Nikelle were there to cheer me on. And still, I knew others were at longer miles offering their support. I also knew my in-laws were back near the finish line with Jaycie.

As we were corralled down Jackson Street, the water hydrants were blasting us. This action would have really been welcomed much earlier in the race as the first water station we came upon left us empty. Tables were overturned; littered cups and wet pavement left only signs of the liquids we were hoping for. Thankfully, our coaches had impressed upon us the importance of running with water packs. We tried to tell ourselves that this was a fluke and pressed on hoping the next water stop would be equipped. My sister-in-law, Fiona, who shared this experience with me had her cell phone on her and called my brother to meet us with water at the next point we would see them to be certain we had some fluids.

We continued on reminding ourselves of our reason for persevering. Near Lincoln Park Zoo, we came upon a fountain where we dipped our hats and doused our heads as we kept on. Again, as we approached Wrigleyville, a fountain offered the same experience. We were instructed by a friend of Fiona’s (who runs marathons) early in the race to accept ice from spectators and place it inside our hats to cool us down (not to mention using it to cool off any other place of our body we could). It was so greatly appreciated to have spectators spraying hoses, offering ice and water bottles and cheering us on. It was an incredible experience for what we were allowed to complete.

Tears streamed down my face as I realized I would not have a finish line experience I had dreamed of for many days. However, I had told my dad that I would cross the finish line. At least they allowed us to do that (although the mileage was not even as long as our longest training). I told myself that I was part of a historical marathon. I told myself that funds were still raised and that, after all, was my purpose for beginning this marathon in the first place.

I was unaware of just how many sirens were sounding during the race. I was really oblivious to how many people were dropping due to the heat and I certainly had no idea of the tragedy that occurred for one family. As I walked towards the finish line with my sister-in-law, I realized that it was a wise decision to call the race. It didn’t relieve the frustration in my heart. Although, in my head, I knew it was important. I began to hear all the sirens and see people puking and laying on the sidelines. Even as we were trying to make our way to Charity Village to meet family, a spotter yelled into is megaphone “Runner down. Runner down.” There were simply not enough medics to keep up with the overheated runners.

As we came upon the Team in Training tent in Charity Village, family and friends were there to greet us. Although this was not the finish line memory I was hoping for, I told myself that I still had so much to be thankful for.

The news that night revealed the information about the death of the 35-year-old husband and father from Michigan. No wonder the race was cancelled. As I went to sleep Sunday night, I was grateful to be with my husband and daughters.

I know the conditions were serious and many had their health at stake, not to mention a life. Even still, my emotions are still conflicting as the moment I worked so hard for was stolen from me. As I still long for that finish line experience, I will continue on as an endurance athlete and one day complete those 26.2 miles.

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