Another 26.2 is history! The Chicago Marathon was a tremendous success in every way possible! My friends and family, AKA Wookie’s Warriors, donated a whopping $4627 to support my marathon honoring my Mom! The North Carolina Chapter raised $66,236 and the National total topped $990,000! Team in Training was well represented with 401 runners from across the country decked out in purple from head to toe. This was the biggest marathon I’ve ever run, with 45,000 runners and 1.7 million spectators lining all 26.2 miles! I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to digest the sights, sounds and emotions of the weekend that you made possible.
We arrived in Chicago on Friday and took care of race business and prep right away so we could enjoy some of Chicago’s sights. Saturday evening we loaded up on carbs with TNT runners, coaches and Honored Heroes from all over the country. Mom was even recognized on the big screen as our North Carolina Honored Hero! The speaker was John “The Penquin” Bingham, whose quote “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start” is a favorite among noncompetitive runners like me. We also heard from the father of the Illinois Chapter’s Honored Hero. His son was diagnosed with aggressive leukemia at just 18 months old. Now he is a healthy and vibrant 3 year old who screamed for his daddy and ran onto the stage in the middle of the program. I loved it! It was a perfect example of why we had all worked so hard on behalf of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
As usual, there is never a dull moment when I’m involved in a race. As we walked back to our hotel after dinner, I was nearly run over by a skateboarder who lost control of his board. Thankfully Mari (my TNT coach and constant running partner for the last 10 months) heard the noise and saw him with enough time to scream for me to move and push me out of the way. I glanced back as his board hit a light pole and he stumbled behind me. We just had to laugh! Seriously… Only I would come to Chicago to run a marathon and nearly get run over by a skateboarder! I fear Johnny is going to start insisting I wear a helmet every time I leave the house if this keeps up! And so it goes…
Early to bed, early to rise. We met our group at 5:30 Sunday morning for the 1.5 mile walk to the starting line. Yes! We had to walk 1.5 miles to the start. I was quick to calculate that the walk home from the finish line would be close to 2 miles. I was certain I had only agreed to 26.2 miles and I wasn’t sure how those extra 3.5 miles got thrown in the mix. Oh well, not much I could do about it then. Onward! I finished up my traditional pre-run breakfast of orange juice, coffee, grits, yogurt, half a banana and 3 peanut butter crackers as we followed the masses headed to the starting line. The sun began to light up Grant Park and we made our way to the starting corrals where we lined up based on our estimated pace.
As the clocked ticked closer to 7:30 AM, we could make out the sound of the National Anthem and the applause began to flow back through the crowd. Here we go! The music started pumping and we finally began inching our way to the starting line. The slow, crowded walk to the starting line is my favorite moment of race day. OK, well the finish is fabulous, but the energy and emotion at the starting line is spectacular. There is a little bit of everything going on in those minutes on the way to the starting line. I love to really breathe in the excitement, anticipation, anxiety and fear that surrounds me. This is the best people watching place in the world! Every runner has a story behind their quest for the marathon medal and I always wonder what prompts each person to put one foot in front of the other and go for it. Everyone looks sharp in their specially chosen race day attire. I can also spot the new runners right away and know that by mile 3 they will sorely regret their outfit of choice. I love seeing the smiles, laughter, chit-chat, high-fives and fist-bumps as well as the tears, memorials and pictures. So many people, so many stories, so many places and yet all our paths have led to this one place at this one appointed time in our lives where 45,000 runners will cover the same distance on the same day.
It took us 15 minutes to make our way to the official start. By then the lead runners were already past the 5K mark, but I already knew my time wasn’t going to bring home the winner’s purse, so I didn’t let it hurt my pride. As we passed under the first tunnel and ran into the city streets I was overwhelmed. I have never seen so many people interested in runners! I knew my family and fellow TNT peeps back home would be tracking me online and receiving automatic text messages throughout the race when I passed various points, but I never dreamed thousands of people would get up at the crack of dawn to watch lunatics traverse the streets of Chicago! I’m used to dodging bikes, dogs and annoyed drivers who can’t stand waiting an extra couple of minutes to get to a drive-thru where they remain seated in their comfy cars waiting for an egg mcmuffin with a side of fried hash browns. In Chicago, every part of the course was lined with spectators ringing cowbells, blaring stereos, screaming our names, passing out pretzels, oranges, skittles, cookies and cold water. Crowds were sometimes a dozen people deep with people perched on the side of bridges, hanging off balconies and standing on chairs. The entire city embraced the marathon in ways that I can not begin to describe. There were over 13,000 volunteers offering words of encouragement as they gave out water and Gatorade every mile or so (I even saw beer offered, but I refrained since that had not been part of my standard training practice). Even the runners were cheering on each other. Several of us ran parts of the course together and we all had “Wookie” printed on the back of our shirts. People would see us and yell “Go Wookies!” How great is that?!
I saw lots of quotes on signs and on shirts in Chicago. My favorite of the day was “One day I will not be able to run. Today is not that day.” It served as a constant reminder that I was running for those who could not, or one day would not be able to run. I was running for those who wished they were healthy enough to do what I was doing and I was making it count for a bigger cause than just myself. I won’t deny that I needed to conquer Chicago to prove to myself that I’m bigger than Epilepsy. I needed my Chicago medal as proof that regardless of my circumstance I could still beat the odds. I knew that October 9th was NOT going to be the day that I could not run.
The highlights of the race came at miles 1, 11, 17 and 25. There she was, in this packed crowd of 1.7 million people. This wild woman wearing purple, clanging her TNT cowbell, screaming at the top of her lungs and waving a purple sign that said “Go Gatewood!” Yep! That’s my Momma! I have no idea how she made it around the city so quickly and managed to grab a front row spot every time. I don’t know how she was able to find me in a crowd of 45,000 or that I was able to find her in the crowd of spectators. Obviously the Gatewood sign helped, but still, there were lots of people and yet we always saw each other. At mile 25, when I was practically counting the footsteps that were left until the finish, I heard a familiar voice and looked off to the left side of the road. That wild woman again! Mom was standing out in the street waving and jumping and squealing. That sight made it worth it. Eight months of hard core training, an entire summer rearranged according to a training schedule, lots of early morning alarms, several pairs of shoes, six months of fund-raising and a lifetime worth of spaghetti. All of it was worth the chance to see my Mom, healthy and energetic, cheering me on in the final mile of the Chicago Marathon. This experience was what I had envisioned back in 2006 when I ran my first race with Team in Training. I’ve logged a gazillion miles and raised almost $15,000 for LLS since then and I have no regrets. It was worth every step (and every blister)!
When we got back to Charlotte, we took the elevator in the parking deck to our car. As we gingerly began the post-marathon limp towards the car, the lady beside me stopped and made eye contact with me. She pointed to my coach’s backpack logo and asked if we were with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I told her we were returning from running the Chicago Marathon to raise money for LLS. She said “Thank you for doing that. My brother died from leukemia a couple of years ago. That’s a good thing you are doing.” Here I was, on the top of the parking deck at the Charlotte airport with a stranger, and one more vivid reminder that the challenge was worthwhile.
26.2 miles wasn’t easy. Cancer isn’t easy, but running in hopes of a cure just makes sense. I would do it all over again (and yes, I probably will) if just one doctor can tell one patient that they have reason to hope. Hope still exists for those who believe and I believe.
I’m thankful for Wookie’s Warriors.
I’m thankful for $4627 for LLS.
I’m thankful for the ability to run.
I’m thankful for the power of my purple peeps.
I’m thankful for the lessons I have learned from a brain injury and Epilepsy.
I’m thankful that running restores my mind and energizes my spirit.
I’m thankful for my family that supports my insanity.
I’m thankful that 26.2 miles (actually closer to 30 miles) is behind me.
I’m thankful that I set a new personal best marathon time.
I’m thankful that my Mom is a SURVIVOR!
I’m thankful and I’m blessed.
Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, October 2011