Dear City of Chicago,
You held a little event this past week, the 35th Annual Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Obviously, you guys have been doing this deal a long time and have it down to a science. You anticipated the crowds, the tourists, the lines and the strain on transportation. You were ready for us on Columbus Day weekend. But I wasn’t ready for you.
This was my first marathon. Not my first CHICAGO marathon, but my first time ever running 26.2 miles. Needless to say, I was a little pukey and testy with nerves. Just ask Husband – I’m lucky he didn’t shove me off the train 30 miles outside of Kansas City.
From the minute I stepped foot in Union Station on Saturday, I was overwhelmed. From the train conductors, bus drivers, police officers, store employees, hotel managers and EXPO volunteers, you all acted as if this was the FIRST Chicago Marathon. As if having almost 2 million people take over your city wasn’t an annoyance, but a privilege. I can’t tell you how many times a city employee – a stranger – asked “Are you running this weekend? Oh, how great!!! Where are you from? Have an amazing time, and good luck to you!” Never mind that I’m holding up the entire line because I have NO idea how to put my transit card in the little slot. Let’s just chat all day, CTA Shirley!!
Everything was so well organized. I mean, put 45,000 runners in one place and it’s bound to be chaos. The porta-potty lines were short at the start, the corrals were clearly labeled, and the PA system was loud enough for us to hear waaaaaay back in our 4:30 pace group.
And you locals in your ‘hoods. You amazing little drunk party animals, you. You treated me like a ROCKSTAR. I totally get why Keith Richards won’t hang up his skinny jeans – having thousands of strangers yell your name is life changing! And I don’t mean, “Look how cool they think I am” life changing. I mean “Look how much love they want to share” life changing. From the abuelitas holding bowls of narajas and the *fabulous* gents in Boystown strutting their stuff, to the adorable high-fiving little league team, the Gangnam Style dancers in Korea Town, the clever signmakers, and that sweet, sweet angel at mile 8 with the glob of Vaseline – you showed so much enthusiasm for me, I would have thought I was winning (I was not. Not even close.). You were so proud of your city and your neighborhood, and me. You were proud of ME!
Several Chicago Marathon vets told me about the spectators, to smile and wave whenever I could. I guess I didn’t really grasp what they were telling me. I didn’t realize there would be stretches where you were standing 5 people deep, leaning over railings for a high-five. For 26.2 miles, you made me smile and laugh. I was humbled beyond words, and sometimes to tears. You were EVERYWHERE I looked – hanging off balconies, waving from tall office buildings, on bridges above me, on streets below me, around every turn. People warned me, “Miles 20-23 are rough. It’s further out of the city, and people don’t really come that far. It’s lonely.” Nope, you were there. You were there with much needed bananas & candy corn, sipping mimosas and telling me I could have one (or two) in just a few more miles.
And my family. Oh, oh, my friends and family. Friends gave me gifts, presents and words of encouragement the days leading up to the trip.
And Team Thode – Husband, Em Em Dub, Lil Kathy, Dancin’ Darrell, Assistant Annie and SIL braved the early morning and cold with hilarious signs, tshirts and canyon-wide smiles. Knowing I would see them up ahead kept me excited to tick away the miles.
Marathoners tell you about hitting “the wall”. The wall is a moment, a mile, a FEW miles, when you mentally and physically don’t think you can go one more step. I never even came close to the wall. You, Chicago, made me fly. I was having such a good time watching YOU, I kind of forgot I was about to accomplish something HUGE. I wouldn’t know this until later, but I was running negative splits. When I was supposed to be getting slower, I was running stronger and faster.
Suddenly, I saw the sign. 25.2. That’s when it hit me that I only had one mile left. I was actually going to do this. I was about to do something I said I would never do, could never do. I pushed as hard as I could that last mile, running for the finish with everything I had left, minus a little pee. I’m telling you – I was EXCITED!!!!!
As I rounded the last corner, who do I see in the crowd but my parents, running down the street and yelling my name like this was a scripted scene from some Katherine Hegel movie. As I entered the final straight away, there are bleachers FILLED with people on either side of me yelling “You did it, Megan! You are a marathoner!” and that’s when the tears came. A woman who’s face I will never forget asked me my name, I blubbered something and she said “Megan, today is a big day. Congratulations, you are a marathoner!” and she put a medal around my neck.
Chicago, you made my first marathon more than a race. It was an unforgettable experience that I will never be able to replicate. You were classy, fun, motivating and supportive. Thank you, Chicago!! Now, let’s party!