Hours after the volunteers had gone home and the finishing line packed away for another year, I stood on a rooftop drinking a cocktail. Darkness had long taken away the humid sun and as I over looked Millennium Park (where the Chicago Marathon had started and finished) sipping the last dregs of my Old Fashioned I had one pure, lasting thought; how did I get here? What happened in-between crossing the start line and sprinting for the finish was painful, hot and memorable, but what stayed with me after I had peeled off the sweaty clothes and showered the day off my sun burnt skin was a feeling of personal progression.
This feeling came about during the Chicago Marathon because I spent a lot of time thinking about when I first started running. In a place so far removed from that moonlight country-road outside my house two years ago, I could not help but reminisce. I could put it down to the song choice but, if I am honest, it is because I still cannot comprehend how I have run almost 2,000 miles since that first day in August 2015 and I craved to know how. I know literally how; by simply putting one foot in front of the other until I got knackered but where the drive to keep going came from I wasn’t sure. As I passed over the Michigan Avenue Bridge, I put it down to my addictive personality guessing it could have been either running or cocaine but that did not explain why I didn’t find some other fad to take up shortly after. The L train rumbling overhead I thought about how running has affected my body but even losing five and a half stone wouldn’t have kept me from embracing the sofa and never leaving it eventually.
As I ran out of the shade that Chicago’s skyscrapers had gifted us runners and out into the blazing sun I blocked out the cheering crowds and unpicked the scars running had healed along the way. I tried to remember how I felt before the simple noise of shoe hitting road echoed through most of my memories. In doing so, I completely understood why I have stayed running. The past two years have been filled with such incredible times that the person and place I was mentally back then are simply too hard to grasp now. I have travelled the world, met such brilliant people, had experiences that defy comprehension and created a supportive community through this blog that is encouraging other people to start their own running stories. If this had happened in just two years, why would I ever stop?
In letting my mind be wrapped around these thoughts, I knew that my marathon was going to be compromised especially considering that the temperature had hit 26 degrees at this point. So I let my body relax, my focus drift away from the past and just enjoyed the now. When that focal point of a personal best is gone, you take that fog away from a race. I was reading every sign, high five-ing every out stretched hand and chatting to other runners. While I love pushing myself on race day sometimes, you cannot beat the primitive joy of high five-ing a stranger. For that feeling Chicago is unmatched, I have never experienced such passionate support that the people of Chicago shared with all 41,000 of us on that day. From the heart-warming sight of an old people’s home along the route with many of its patients waving from their windows to the sheer volume created by the cheering people inside China Town. I am still in awe of you all.
As I neared the finish, I realised that I still had plenty of energy so I selected the most upbeat song I could find and launched into a sprint. Regardless of my headphones being plugged in the thunderous support was deafening and I pushed faster to the finish. As I crossed the line, I swiftly collapsed in a sodden heap, sat on the floor head sunken between my legs, just as I had done so back on that very first day with that unrivalled sense of self-pride coursing through me. Reminding me (and I hope you) that it doesn’t matter if you run a mile or a marathon it is all about pushing yourself to be better because one day you simply won’t remember what held you back.
Next Race: Snowdonia Marathon
Highlights: What a race, what a city, what a route! I was honestly surprised just how much I loved this race. As a tourist it was welcoming and oh so beautiful and as a runner it was supportive, loud and passionate. This race should go on everyone’s bucket list.
Lowlights: I cannot think of any!