Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I am runner, hear me roar

Like many of you, I have been processing the bombing of the Boston Marathon for the past few days.  I've been watching the news, seeing the inspirational quotes, and reading Patton Oswalt's Facebook Note. I've been disgusted by whomever would carry out such a cowardly act, and uplifted by those rushing to help others.

Before a few years ago, I never considered myself a runner. I ran track for two years in high school and competed in my small town's sprint triathlon (mostly for the swimming, though), but never would I have signed up for a race or gone on a run just for fun or exercise. Then, the summer after I graduated from college, my friend Molly asked me to do the Chicago Half Marathon with her. I reluctantly agreed. I had all summer to train, so I printed out my Hal Higdon beginner's level training program and followed it diligently. I didn't skip a single training run for fear that I would not finish or, even worse, be picked up by the "sag wagon" that mandates the slowest pace allowed. I woke up early before my Shakespeare Festival classes and rehearsals and ran through South Bend, IN, past the river and the sewage plant.

And I discovered that I loved it.

I ran the race that September and immediately vowed to sign up again next year. After the next year, I decided to set my sights higher and take on the Chicago Marathon in 2011.

I signed up for a charity team that I was passionate about and raised money. I joined the Chicago Area Runner's Association (CARA) and did my long runs with them on Saturday mornings at 6:30 am, essentially surrendering my Friday night social life. As my "short runs" worked up to eight miles, I stuck to a protein-rich diet and drank so. much. water. I dedicated those two months to training and stretching and reaching my goal of completing the 26.2 miles that awaited me in October.

I remember everything about the day I ran the Chicago Marathon, which ended up being one of the most emotional days of my life. I remember the warm weather that soon turned hot and nearly unbearable during a stretch of newly paved blacktop. I remember the bodies walking and hunched over at the side of the road as the miles stretched into the 20's. I remember where the male runners would peel off the course to use the secluded bushes as their bathroom.

But mostly, I remember the spectators. I cried my way through the first mile as I was simply overwhelmed by the number of people cheering for everyone and anyone. There were so many witty signs, high fivers, and cowbells. Lots of people called out my charity name (plastered on the front of my singlet) as I passed. Some people would just yell something like, "Way to go sweatband!" or "You've got this, purple shorts!" My parents came to Chicago to watch the race, and I got to see them and my boyfriend at around mile 3.5 and 23 (I ended up beating them to mile 13!), holding their sign and camera and screaming for me. The route took me past the bar where I worked at the time, and a line of my coworkers screamed for me and gave me high fives at mile 10. Every time I saw someone I knew, I got a huge burst of energy that told my body that I could definitely accomplish this feat. I don't think I could have finished the marathon (at least, in the time I did) without the crowd support pushing me to make my training count.

So, thank you to everyone who has traveled to watch me in a race, whether it's down the street or across the state. Thank you for encouraging me to accomplish what I thought was undoable only months before. Thank you to anyone who has ever cheered for a stranger, who has ever called someone by their bib number or shirt color--trust me, we do notice and love it. Thank you to all of the runners who have trained with me or commiserated with me.

Please don't stop coming. Because I'm not going to stop running.

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