Ah...ideal weather conditions for marathoning! Too bad it is merely three days too late. My brain has finally cooled off, and I have had some time to process all that went on during Sunday's Chicago Marathon. I am sure you have all heard the complaints and problems, so I am going to try my best to steer clear of that old news. I'd much rather tell the amazing story of Miguel the Marathoner and his trusty Mentor...me.
Seven months of training finally led up to its climax on Sunday as we all gathered in our tent in Charity Village. Mentors and students buzzed with excitement as we scribbled last-minute names and messages on our arms, legs, shirts, and chests. Temporarily tattooed in permanent marker, we "warmed up" our muscles even though the heat and humidity had already helped warm up our bodies. Many mentors kept checking their watches with anticipation as 7:30 AM approached...time to get to the start line AS A TEAM! We wound our way through the crowd and planted ourselves near the 4:45 Pace Group marathoners...who knew at that time that a pace number on your bib would mean nothing in a few short miles. Miguel and Jose R. joked and laughed it up as we waited for nearly 40,000 runners to get moving. Over and over again, Miguel shouted "GO!" as nervous marathoners jerked their heads up thinking we were actually supposed to be moving. After 20 officially-timed minutes since the "gun" went off, we finally reached the start line and crossed it with running legs.
The smiles on our faces continued as we passed runners taking their potty breaks on the side of the road, as old men walked faster than us runners, and as we discussed our anticipated finish time (4:15...no, 4:30...okay, somewhere between 4:00 and 5:00...hey, let's just cross the finish line). Slowly but surely we got into a groove of focused running and occassional encouragements. Our group of 6 eventually broke into two groups of 3 (2 mentors per student). Miguel, Michelle, and I trotted on at a 10:30 pace which we considered a decent modification for the heat. But then reality hit as water stations came up dry, and our smiles turned to a more concerned look. But we were saved by many spectators, all one had to do was be brave enough to ask for help...water, Gatorade, Body Glide, cell phones...all available at the hands of helpful lookers-on.
Our group could not stick together through a few water and ice stops, and at Mile 9 our group fell apart. Miguel got caught up at a station, I put on a light jog, and Michelle lost us in the wave of people. It took me a mile to find Miguel, and all that time I kept my eye out for a tall, skinny kid with a Cubs hat turned backwards (a Cubs hat of all things)! At Mile 10, my wife and sister-in-law had bottles of Gatorade ready for us, but I was a lone runner at that point and only took one bottle. When I turned around to keep running, who did I see right in front of me? Miguel! We rounded the corner onto North Avenue thankful that we had found each other and grateful that Elvis was ahead. That was the motivation and help we needed to truck along back into the Loop and be greeted by our lovely Team M3 volunteers cheering us on. Jose R. and Jose H. eventually caught up to us too and proceeded to pass by us with supportive smiles.
But that's when it started to fall apart for us. Miguel's ankle bothered him, the heat bore down on us, and our muscles were doing their best to support us. It was stop and go for the remainder. Thank goodness we weren't pulled off the course like so many other runners who didn't pass the half-way point by 11:30 AM. Miguel and I continued to encourage each other because that's all that gave us the drive to keep going. Pain slowly rose up from our ankles to our calves, to our hips, and finally all the way up to our shoulders. Five hours and fifty-nine minutes after crossing that start line, we bravely crossed the finish line to receive our piece of metal that was genuinely earned over 26.2 miles of perseverence. This will always be the day that Miguel became a marathoner along with twelve other brave high schoolers from the City of Chicago.