A running club with weekly Group Runs in Aurora, IL., Montgomery, IL. and Oswego, IL.
The collective roar of the million and a half lined up on the streets for hours on end; the pounding footsteps of 45000 fellow runners gutting it through 26.2 miles; the 1 magnificent thrill that is the Chicago Marathon!
Chicago 2012 was a lost opportunity. At the time of registration, I was a brand new runner and a full marathon was a pipe dream. By the time October 2012 arrived, I was lamenting having missed the opportunity. When registration for Chicago 2013 was coming up, I was already in training for the Illinois Marathon in April which was going to be my first…but there was no doubt that I was going to run Chicago. And despite the website debacles that occurred… I was lucky to get registered.
Oct 13th 2013. The day arrived after an arduous summer of training that was plagued with distractions, injuries and a general lack of motivation. Having run the Illinois Marathon in April, I was no marathon virgin…but this was Chicago, one of the 6 World Marathon Majors! I would be running in the same race as 2:04 men Emmanuel Mutai of Kenya, Ayele Abshero of Ethiopia and other world class marathoners…These are guys I watched on TV at the Olympic games in 2012. The thought of being in the same starting lineup sent a shiver down my spine.
The alarm was not needed. I was up in the wee hours of the morning anyway. The tension in the hours leading to start was impalpable. The contrasting feelings of eagerness and self-doubts were rattling around in my head like a caged hamster. The Metra ride into the city was quiet at first but with every stop, more wide eyed runners hopped on with their gear, chewing on the last scraps of their carb-load and by the end of it, the rail-cars were bustling with the nervous chatter of hundreds.
As Jake, Ajay and I made the 10 block walk to the start it was still dark and the loud clangs of the volunteers setting up the barricades on Jackson only added to the anxiety “Yikes! We are going to be running here soon.” We got to the long line at Gate 1, but the minutes went by fast. Gear check, photo ops with the gang and before you know it, it was 15 minutes to the start of Wave 1 and I was still teeming to get into my start corral and settle in. The starter’s announcements seemed distant and muffled as I bobbed from side to side with eyes closed waiting for the gun to go off trying to recall every bit of advice, instructions and lessons learnt from the last few months.
Bang! At 7:30:10, the elites blazed away and behind them, the sea of humanity expanded forward onto the first mile like a giant snake awakening from a slumber. Every heartbeat registered a resounding thump in my chest as I crossed the start but it changed when I hit the running stride. Finally, it was happening, the tension eased away like melting butter and I got into rhythm.
The show on the sidelines was quite the spectacle. Every few miles had an adrenaline boosting visual – the juggler on stilts in Lakeview, the drummers in Lincoln park, the bands in Pilsen and Little Italy and the Dragon in Chinatown weaving through the masses. There was no part of the course that was barren of loud cheering spectators. My incredible support crew was all over the course to cheer me. Aparna with my brother Ganesh and his wife Latha spotted me at Mile 3, 12, 17, 23 and 26. My other brother Girish and his wife Lo spotted me at Mile 5 & 10. The initial miles peeled off with ease and I kept up a good pace for the first half.
The early morning chill slowly transformed to a late morning sun-fest. Though the temperature was still comfortable, the sun made its presence felt in the open areas. The legs started feeling heavy and the pace slowed as I made the turn onto Wentworth. A full minute per mile slower than when I started, the final long 3 mile stretch on Michigan seemed like an eternity. The distant sky-scrapers, where I knew the finish was, didn’t seem to be getting any closer. The sidelines thickened with the cheers and chants of the supporters “You’re almost there!”
The penultimate turn onto the incline on Roosevelt felt like there were bags of rocks tied to my thighs. Boy, for a flat course, they sure wanted every runner to remember that last hill. When I made the final turn to the finish, I was delighted and strangely dismayed that it would all be over in a few moments. I gave a loud long scream to sound off an unbelievable feeling across the finish. The outflow of joy continued and I could still maintain a decent walk (and my composure) as the people-movers pushed us through to the back of the runner finish area. It was over. What a thrill!
The crescendo lasted several days. The celebrity attention I got at home, with friends, at work was just incredible. Now why wouldn’t I want to do it all over again?
The Chicago Marathon, every year…a staple in my race calendar.