Today I ran my 50th marathon (Chicago #18). I have mixed feelings about this one: joy and sadness, which is common for me during such an event, but this one reached a level of exhaustion that was more emotional than physical--one consumed with a kind of endless worry.
I chose to run #50 with Students Run Chicago. I wanted to share this accomplishment with the students and my fellow coaches, to give the newbies something to consider as they begin this amazing journey. I went all out to show them support: I produced cheer signs with each runners' names and stealthily displayed them like campaign signs on the Michigan Ave boulevard near the 24 mile mark, in the rain and in the dark, at 5:15 a.m. It'd be a surprise to the team as they neared the finish, and hopefully help bring them in strong. We had a terrific start: students and coaches all together waiting in Corral D. We took off at the tail end of the first wave and spread out on Columbus Drive. There was a moment when it felt like we were at the front of the pack, strung along with our blue singlets feeling like we owned the world. We were at the end of the first wave, so no one started behind us for a while. I captured a photo of a handful of us--Coach Will front and center, Coach Rus with his arms stretched out, and everyone else grinning like this was going to be nothing.
The rain was intermittent, then steady, then relentless. It cleared up, then came back. Adeel, Alejandro, Daniel, Erica, Rus, and I stayed together through Mile 17. We were steady and strong, keeping an 8:45-9:00 min pace. Bathroom breaks split the group apart, and though we'd catch up at various times, we eventually could not find one another.
At mile 22, I received a text from my sister informing me that my mother was taken to the hospital. Rus was the only one with me at that point, and I hesitated to tell him my news. He let me take off at the 24 mile mark, in the quietness of the SRC cheer signs, all laminated in the wet surrounding us.
I used to give all my medals to my mother. I'd come home and say, "Here's another one for your collection!" knowing full well that she didn't necessarily feel excitement for this accomplishment. She was always pleased for me, but we both understood that this was more tradition than anything. She kept most of them in a box that once housed a bunch of socks, with a clear plastic cover, allowing you to see its contents. Most of the medals were wrapped in their lanyards, so nothing was ever flaunted. I've never considered investing in one of those medal racks marathoners have in their man-caves, and my mother would never feel it was necessary to keep this box out (it wasn't; it stayed in one of her dressers). It's all symbolic anyway--there are 50,000 more like it floating around in this world--but that's just me being cynical. I know everyone has their own story. Each medal, in their nameless, mass-produced dullness, shines immediately when that volunteer places it around a runner's neck at the finish.
This photo shows my mother's hands holding my medal the next day, after she was settled into a room. I felt silly offering it to her, as though I was attempting to make up for not being around to take her to the hospital. Maybe she wasn't even comprehending what it was, but I'd hoped she knew I was thinking about her somewhere during all those miles.