Today, 45,000 or so runners are running in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. I am not one of them.
Last year, I decided to run one last Marathon. I first attempted the Chicago Marathon in 1988. I made it about 18 miles in a steady drizzle, before knee pain and exhaustion prompted me to quit. I returned and finished in 1989. I ran a few more in Chicago, then decided to branch out to other cities.
I finished Marathons in Cleveland, Indianapolis, Madison and New York.
I attempted the Boston Marathon, the granddaddy of them all. Excitement and adrenaline got the best of me and I went too hard too fast. I passed out from heat exhaustion around mile 19. It was a quick drop and a bottle of water brought me right back. Unfortunately, once that happens, you are not allowed to rejoin the Marathon. At least I gave it a shot and ran in the most prestigious Marathons.
I had pretty much stopped doing Marathons, when in 2014 my niece Sam decided to run the Chicago Marathon. Joining her was impossible to resist, even though I knew she would run much faster and finish well ahead of me. Still, it was an experience I was happy to share with her.
I decided to run one more in 2017, but a throat surgery delayed me until 2019. As I prepared for the Marathon, I decided it would be my last. When I finished it, it would be my 25th completed Marathon. That seemed like a nice number to end it all.
I trained harder than ever (or maybe because of my age it seemed so. I announced my intention to retired and I invited friends and family to come out one more time. I needed all the support I could get. Sam's husband Kyle would also be running (and would also finish well ahead of me).
I knew I would finish, but I didn't know how much pain I'd have or how long it would take. My goal was 6.5 hours, but simply finishing would be good enough. It wasn't easy, but it was fun, maybe because I knew it was my last one. Many supporters were at various parts of the course and I appreciated each one of them. Knowing they were out there really makes a huge difference.
I was content. I finished my 25th Marathon. While my time wasn't good, my pain level was minimal the next day.
One of the highlights of the whole experience was meeting Meb Keflezighi at the Marathon Expo. Keflezighi won a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics. He also won the New York Marathon and the Boston Marathon. He is one of the greatest ever. I was a bit surprised that the meeting wasn't simply a photo op. Instead, he actually asked about my running history and we talked for several minutes.
I must admit that I feel slightly sad today that I am not running this year. Despite the pain and time commitment in training, I enjoyed running in the Marathon. There is something peaceful about it being you versus the road. Finishing is a high like no other. No matter how much pain you feel heading to the finish line, that last couple hundred feet and the aftermath are pure bliss.
I wish good luck to the runners out there. I hoe they get good weather. I'll be there in spirit.
Meb Keflezighi and me in Chicago, IL-October 2018.