Joan Benoit Samuelson!
Ready to enter my name into the lottery for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon 2019, taking place on October 13, I remember praying to God to only allow my entry to be accepted if I could actually participate. I more often than not sign up for races at the last minute, lacking confidence my schedule will not change; thus, being admitted almost a year prior to my first Abbott World Marathon Major slightly concerned me, especially as I predicted I would be out of Kearney, Nebraska, and have begun a new job by then.
Running the marathon feels like just another day at the office at this point, and I remained more anxious about learning how to get around the city of Chicago, specifically from my Airbnb to Grant Park, where the race commenced. The Expo in McCormick Place with its immensity seemed more like a major business conference, and I spent six hours here the day before my run, making the most of all the perks and even meeting two of the greatest American female marathoners of all time, Joan Benoit Samuelson and Deena Kastor. As Joan kindly signed for me, she asked how many marathons I have completed, and I replied, “I have run five ultras, and this is my fourth marathon.” She continued, “You are serious,” and I felt shy and out of place in the presence of this humble legend. I also asked Deena after her guest-speaker appearance, “What is your main source of motivation?” to which she answered, “Being a role model and a good mother.” I could have been more nervous if I had read more thoroughly through just how much these two women have accomplished in the sport of marathon.
Walking far more extensively than I planned the final two days leading up to Chicago, I worried this may hurt my performance. Following twenty minutes of sleep, I rode Uber and then the subway to pick up my professional-runner friend, who ended up finishing in 2:16:29 and 31st male overall, from his hotel and walk to the event location together. I had never walked so far to reach the starting line, which seemed to be at least half a mile away from where my corral, G, assembled. The initial lengthy tunnel lost my Garmin satellite, which utterly messed up my GPS. Another tunnel or two later hindered satellite progress as well, but I reminded myself GPS does not mean much anyway. Intentionally or unintentionally, one fit blonde woman and I continued to run in proximity from around mile 4 to mile 15; she would be in front and then pop back up from behind, I would pass her and she would pass me, and later I just smiled each time we ran almost shoulder to shoulder. I half-jokingly blame her for my overpacing the first half, crossing the 13.1-mile timing mat in 1:57:46, but based on how strong I felt I thought I possibly could break four hours, my primary ambitious goal. Unsurprisingly, however, I hit the first wall around mile 16, but I repeated to myself, “This will not always get worse,” as ultrarunning legend David Horton would say, and carried on. I recovered for a moment, but with seven or eight miles to go, I really bonked and drastically slowed down, and I battled constantly with my mind, “Should I walk a little?” but each time I thought of what would make me happy after, this time eating Korean food, and persevered. The effect of my lack of sleep rapidly revealed itself, as I almost felt like I was sleep-running. Furthermore, I must have passed, squeezing through and running around, at least a thousand runners and not many runners passed me the first fifteen miles, which could have contributed to my loss of energy. Slightly past 21 miles, I pulled out my last of three Honey Stinger gels in my right pocket just to accidentally drop it, and I, beyond frustrated, decided to move forward without pausing, mainly due to the muscle tension in my neck that would have given me pain had I crouched down.
I, by the grace of God, overcame these obstacles and succeeded in never walking throughout the entire 26.2 miles, crossing the finish line in 4:19:20. As I walked another half a mile to leave the finish area, I did not feel content, as I believed wholeheartedly I could have performed better; nevertheless, this substantial personal record in the marathon showed me how far I have come since my first 26.2 five-and-a-half years ago in Atlanta, Georgia.
From start to finish, the crowd and performers filled the streets with positive energy and entertaining signs, and this truly means a great deal to runners. Meeting numerous individuals with the same passion from all over the world brought out the motormouth social butterfly in me, and I miss that atmosphere. Ultimately, I hope to finish all six of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, leaving Boston, New York City, Berlin, Tokyo, and London on the list of marathons I need to pursue. Finding a way into these Majors feels more challenging than running the marathons themselves, as I have already been denied by New York City and London, but I will figure out a way. Thank You, Jesus!