Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Stopping to Smell the Roses along 26.2 Miles

I feel as though I should provide some sort of disclaimer for the story I am about to share.   What I did this weekend is not something I would recommend anyone do on a routine basis....but boy, was it worth it!

No, I did not jump out of another airplane.  Nor did I rappel off the side of a skyscraper.

I ran the Chicago Marathon.

"Huh?" you may ask.  "What's wrong with that?  You are a runner Barb.  RunningSTRONG for Hope - duh."

Well, I ran it without training.

A typical training plan for a marathon takes 18 weeks.  18 weeks ago was June 3rd.

Hence my problem.

I was in the middle of training for my biggest challenge to date - cycling across Iowa for a week in July....in 100 degree temperatures.

OK, some of you may not find that to be a big hurdle.  But for me, cycling was not something I was comfortable with.  The longest I had ever ridden was 65 miles this past October ....and that was difficult.  

I didn't feel at ease with my bike.  

The little bit of cycling I had done in the past didn't prepare me for 7 consecutive days of cycling - with the shortest day being over 50 miles.  And did I mention the sweltering heat in the middle of cornfields in July?  Oh, and camping in this heat was involved.

So, starting a marathon training program back in June was not on my radar.  I figured when RAGBRAI was over in July, I'd just pick up running again.

Or so I thought.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I became a cyclist on that trip across Iowa.  Somehow along the way, I found I didn't enjoy running anymore.

Some of these feelings had been festering for sometime.  Maybe it was a little running burnout from my half marathon a month in 2011.  Maybe it was my running group breaking up due to work commitments and moves.  

All I know for sure is the few times I tried to run after RAGBRAI were torture.  I didn't enjoy it at all.  So, instead I signed up to ride a Century in Door County Wisconsin, which required more time on the bike.

Yes, I did get in a few runs.  I am embarrassed to admit that the longest run I did this year other than the Austin Half Marathon in February and the Illinois Half Marathon in April was 7 miles.  And that 7 miles was downhill.....down the bottom end of Mt Hood in Oregon.  So I had gravity on my side for that run.

Yet here I was on Sunday morning.  Lining up with close to 40,000 other runners in Grant Park under the Chicago skyline as the sun rose.

Lining up in Corral E...the charity corral.  Lining up next to serious sub 3:30 marathoners and first timers with plans to make it to the finish before the course closed.  Team-in-Training, Team to End Aids, PAWS, Fox Foundation, Team World Vision, Imerman Angels, and numerous other organizations.  Over 3,000 runners that not only dedicated their time to complete a 18 week training program but to also fundraise for causes near and dear to them.

I was surrounded by a sea of yellow.  This is why I was there.  This is why I showed up regardless of my training.  To participate as a member of Team LIVESTRONG.  A team of over 250 runners that raised over $230,000 to kick cancer to the curb.  Over 80% of those funds go directly to programs that assist cancer survivors.

On my wrist were the names of 26 cancer warriors - most that ran out of time in their battle with cancer....others still showing cancer who is boss.  Each mile along the route was dedicated to one of these folks.  

My mom and dad were mile 1 and 2.  Fitting since my life began because of them so it only made sense that this journey began with them.  Mile 25 and 26 (plus .2) were dedicated to my sister Janet and my husband Brian.  Again fitting because both were very instrumental in my adult life and have left an enormous footprint on the Barbara that you know.

In between were grandparents, sisters, fathers, friends, a son and daughter.....all loved ones that were very important to a variety of my friends - friends I have made throughout my lifetime.  Some friends from high school, others from college, one or two from my work life, many others from my experiences with LIVESTRONG and a few others complete strangers I know only from Twitter or my blog.

These 26.2 angels that were along for the run are why I was there.  Why I was putting myself through the intense pain a marathon causes a human body to endure - even worse for a body that wasn't trained.  

And although only 2,000 people finished behind me....and this was by far the slowest marathon I ever ran....it was the most memorable marathon for me.

I ran alongside my friend Kate for the first 16 miles.  This was Kate's second marathon with Team LIVESTRONG but her first one was derailed by a bum knee that forced her out at mile 3.  I was there at mile 3 cheering her on when she realized she had to stop.  Hardest decision for a runner to make but she made the right decision.  No doubt about it.  One knee surgery later and she was back again this year.

She tells me I got her through the first 16 miles but it was her that got me through those 16 miles.  Without Kate's diligence to stick to our Jeff Galloway run/walk plan (we both decided this was the smart route to take since I was under-trained and she was unsure of her knee), I am certain I wouldn't have finished as I would have gone out too fast and crashed.  Every 4 minutes Kate would let me know it was time to walk....and 1 minute later she'd remind me it was time to start again. 

Eventually we did part ways but not until we mutually agreed to do so at mile 16.  

I ran the next 8 miles - typically the dreaded death march and hitting the wall miles - with ease.  I stuck to our plan but picked up the running pace just a little.  Surprisingly, I felt great.  

I had no business being out there.  But with each mile marker, I would look down at my wrist and see the dedication for that mile.  And thinking of that individual.....or the friend that made the dedication.....inspired me to keep going.

At mile 24 I came across another teammate that at first glance was just taking a walk break.  But once I saw his face, I knew something wasn't right.  He was injured and had been walking with great difficulty since mile 20.  It was cold on Sunday and he was shivering.  The sun had ducked behind some clouds and the wind off Lake Michigan had picked up a bit - not great for a body that was just sweating.

We began chatting and although he suggested I go on and finish, there was no way I was going to leave this gentleman - a cancer survivor no less.....and thereby a hero in my eyes.  I was finishing with him....no matter how we got there....and was immensely honored to cross that finish line with him.  His determination was inspiring.  As we walked together, we shared our stories.  It was, by far, the most touching moment I have ever had in all the races I have run over the years.

I showed him my wrist band and shared with him mile 25 was for my sister Janet.  It struck me how appropriate this was as Janet would do anything for anyone.  She always put others before herself and her needs.  Perfect for this mile.

Mile 26 was from Brian and with every marathon  I have always teared up crossing the finish line.  Partially because just finishing a marathon is such an overwhelming experience but also because I started all this to honor Brian.  And after watching him suffer through his cancer, through the pain - both physically and emotionally, finishing a marathon always reminds me of this pain....and how much he suffered knowing how difficult life would be for myself and the kids without him in our lives.

It was so appropriate that I was running this last mile in honor of Brian with my new friend - who during that last mile was making a video of us running....and added a message for his wife...it was apparent how much he loves her and how much their love for one another helped him during this race and the race for his life.

Yes,...it was hard.  I would never recommend anyone try this....and I'll never run a half or full again without training.

I do wonder if I had trained would my experience been as inspirational to me.

And yes, I did high five every kid along the way, read as many posters as I could, thanked volunteers, danced along with the music on the course, chatted with a few friends I came across spectating and had a beer.  And thanks to Kate, I finally noticed The United Center after running by it three times.   All things that I would have missed had I been going for the 4 hour marathon.

And yes, I did realize I do enjoy running still.  Although, now I also enjoy cycling too.

Pain really is temporary.  Stopping to smell the roses is memorable.


  1. Thanks for the great post! I was so glad to finally meet you in person! I can't wait to run another event for Livestrong :)

  2. What a great post Barb! Thank you for all that you do, for all of those your run for, and for all of us you inspire!

  3. Loved your post! Sometimes the end goal isn't the fastest run, but getting inspired along the way. And it sounds like you certainly did that!