Chicago Marathon

On my delirious post LA-marathon high, I entered the lottery for the Chicago Marathon and got in. Ideally, the bulk of my marathon training for the October race would happen in July and August (while I was in Korea), peaking early in September (in the middle of my cross-country move).

This would only be my second marathon and it was probably obvious to an outside observer that I was not physically or mentally equipped to train for this race by myself while traveling.

But I am not a smart woman…

After a week or two to get adjusted to life in Seoul, I dived into the Nike Chicago Marathon training program, attempting most of my training runs on the treadmill between pulsed laser deposition sessions in lab. But the summer was busy. I missed a run here or there. And then missed a few more. And, most importantly, my body just wasn’t happy running. I had a lot of fun hiking and doing strength training, but jogging for 2+ hours in the swampy heat was miserable.

Eventually, in the beginning of September, I decided to cut my losses and defer my entry to the 2016 race. Chicago is a major marathon and I wanted to do it the right way, instead of stumbling to a slow and painful finish (if I managed to get that far).

I thought that was the end of my 2015 ChiMar story. Then I joined the Evanston Running Club  and immediately received half a dozen emails asking for volunteers for their water station on the marathon route. Since I really need to meet new people outside of work, I decided to sign up as a volunteer.

This morning, two veteran ERC members and I drove down to Aid Station 12 at mile 16. We checked in at 6:40 am to receive our gear – a Chicago Marathon hat and track jacket that identified us as volunteers along the course. Then we poured a lot of small cups of water.

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After about 90 minutes, police cars with their lights flashing and sirens blaring signaled the approach of the elite athletes. First, the men’s wheelchair racers whizzed past us, followed in a few minutes by the women’s wheelchair competitors.

The most exciting part, by far, was the arrival of the elite men. The volunteers went nuts cheering for these incredible athletes, who make running a four-minute-and-change mile look easy (so easy they have to do it 26 times in a row to make things interesting.)

After that, hordes of runners started pouring past the aid station. First, there were the competitive types: Olympic runners, triathletes, all around animals. These guys grab a drink as they run by without slowing down. Next, there were the well trained recreational runners. They slow down enough to pick up a cup, but still jog through the water station on the way to PRs. Last, you get your fun runners and bucket list types, girls in Wonder Woman costumes and folks headed to a 7 hour finish by sheer force of will. Obviously, these groups can be mixed up – many first time marathoners are in great shape and incredibly fast while some veterans prefer to take a relaxed pace. But overall, it was fascinating to see the attitude of the runners change as the morning wore on.

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A few things I learned from volunteering –

  1. If you’re a runner, thank the volunteers.
  2. If you’re a volunteer, look for names written on jerseys and arms. Cheer people on by name. You got this, thirteenth Dave I’ve seen this morning!
  3. If possible, work a water station. Avoid Gatorade unless you like being repeatedly splashed by sticky sweet industrial rehydration juice. If you might get stuck on Gatorade duty, wear galoshes.
  4. Even when you’re bored as fuck because it’s been 3 hours and every runner looks the same and you forgot to eat breakfast, be enthusiastic! This race might be a really big deal for someone, a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment, and you can make it a little bit better.

The most important lesson I learned?

No one looks good running.

Especially in a marathon. Especially after 16 miles. All those Nike ads of runners dashing across beautiful landscapes are bullshit. Even the world’s best endurance athletes look like they are suffering because they are pushing themselves to a crazy, brutal, incredible place. So embrace the ugly. And go run.

ChiMar – I’ll see you next year at the start line. – xoxo, A

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