The Art of the Marathon

My Marathon Experience

The idea of running a marathon has always been attractive to me. It is said that the marathon is the ultimate test of human ability. Many people ask me, “Why would you ever want to go out and run 26.2 miles?” There is no one answer to this question. No one runs a marathon for the same reason. Everyone has a specific path that leads them to the starting line. This is mine.

My dad has always been a runner. He ran cross country in high school and college and has been running ever since. In 2006, my family traveled to Chicago to cheer my dad on as he ran The Chicago Marathon. Being eight years old, I wasn’t totally aware of the challenge these runners were up against. As we traveled around the city to watch him run, I noticed all of the runners go through several stages. At the start, spirits among them were high and everyone seemed really happy to be there. As the race went on and they hit 13-17 miles the runners looked more serious. By mile 20, they looked miserable. As runners crossed the finish line they were either covered in a space blanket to help conserve their body heat or rushed to the medical tent. I had never seen my dad look quite like he did at the end of the race. I knew he was in extreme pain but I also knew he had accomplished something great. This experience sparked my curiosity.

Over the following years as I progressed through elementary and middle school my interest in running dropped. Going into high school I started running a couple times a week. It was still a drag for me to run at this point and I did it just to keep in shape. Then, in the second semester of my sophomore year, I took health with Robbie Stapleton. In this class we watched a film about the health benefits of running a marathon. This re-sparked my interest. I went home and told my dad I wanted to run the Dexter Ann Arbor Half Marathon. We started training together and my love for running exploded. All I thought about 24/7 was running. On May 31,  2015 I crossed the finish line of my first half marathon. It was a sense of achievement I had never felt before and one of the proudest moments of my life to that date.

Throughout the year, I participated in several other long distance runs but I knew I needed to move on to something big: a full marathon. My dad had always told me that it was unsafe to run a marathon until you were done growing, until you were an adult. When I started researching the 2016 Chicago marathon, it seemed fate that it was three days after my eighteenth birthday. “What better way to celebrate my birthday than run my first marathon?” I thought. So in March of 2016, my dad and I registered to run the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

We started our 18 week training program in June. The program helps you build up your strength by having you run three short runs during the week with a long run on the weekend. The weekday runs range from three to eight miles while the long weekend runs range from 5-20 miles. While I did not follow this schedule faithfully, I feel it prepared me well for this race.

On Oct. 8, 2016 I traveled to Chicago with my parents for the race. On the way into the city we stopped by the Abbott Health and Wellness Expo to pick up our race packets. The expo was bustling with life and thousands of runners walked the aisles exploring the many different companies displaying their newest running products. I was extremely excited and eager to soak it all in. Until the moment I picked up my packet this entire experience felt a bit unreal to me. When I had that bib in my hand, I knew this was happening, I was about to accomplish something great.

I spent that evening stretching and carbo loading in preparation for what I knew lay just around the corner. Lying in bed that night I had a hard time falling asleep. I was anxious. “Would I do as well as I hoped? Had all of my training been worth it? What happens if I can’t walk on Monday?” All of these thoughts led to a restless night. At 5:30 on Oct. 9 I was awake and ready to go. I couldn’t contain my excitement. I pulled on my singlet, ate a bagel and banana and we were on our way to the start corral.

40 thousand runners filed into place as we awaited the 7:30 start. The gun went off and it was time to go. Once we crossed that line, we were off to the races. Tens of thousands of people including my mom lined the streets of Chicago and cheered us on. The feeling was unreal. The first half of the marathon flew by plainly due to my excitement. We rushed through the north side of Chicago then back south. When we hit the halfway point my dad and I hugged goodbye and I took off ahead him.

I was running at a very comfortable pace, and felt strong. Around mile 15 I passed my pace group and kept ahead of them gaining speed every mile. Then I hit mile 24. My legs felt like lead and my arms hung heavy at my sides, nevertheless, I continued to gain speed and in no time passed under the mile 26 banner. “Just .2 miles to go, I sprint this all the time in training” I thought, so, by natural instinct, I took off as fast as I could.

As I passed over the finish line I flung my arms up into the air in one last burst of energy. It was a sense of achievement I had never before felt. The journey was over. I had completed my first marathon. I limped alongside all the other finishers through the corral. Volunteers hung a medal around my neck and wrapped a heat sheet around my body. As I traveled to the family reunite area, I could not stop smiling. I knew I accomplished something great. I was met with a big hug from my mom. A little while later my dad crossed the finish line and we reunited with a hug, and the phrase “we did it.”

So when people ask me “what made you want to run a marathon?” I find myself at a loss for words. Running a marathon is not a small feat. It takes months of training, waking up early on weekends to run, and a desire that cannot be faked. I saw a phrase on a spectator’s sign around mile 20 that I feel really encompasses what it means to run a marathon. The sign read “Pain is temporary, 26.2 is forever.” I am fully serious when I say going out and running 26.2 miles was the greatest experience of my life. I wouldn’t trade that day for anything and I cannot wait to do it all over again.