Every year at Chicago Marathon time I'm a little wistful that I'm not running it. Then I remember how much time it takes to train for a marathon and I'm happy to just go out and cheer them on.
Chicago was my first of eight marathons, and my slowest - 4 hours 25 minutes - but still respectable, right? I was just happy I finished - I hadn't meant to run the damn thing. Truly.
Here's an article I wrote about it some years ago which was published by OnTheRun.com.
A Marathon by Mistake
by Samantha Hoffman
I didn't mean to run the Chicago Marathon. Really. I was actually training for Honolulu which was in December. I was training with two of my friends and since we live in Chicago and that marathon was six weeks earlier than Honolulu we decided to use it as a training run. We registered with the intention of only doing 20 miles of it. We had been training well. We had already done a 20. Just one. The first 20 of my life. I was prepared for another.
Sal, Don and I began side by side, all feeling good, pumped by the excitement and the spectators and the electricity of a marathon, our feet moving as one. The butterflies in my stomach flitted off after the first half mile and I settled in, comfortable. We chatted a little and checked each other’s progress as the miles passed. We basked in the admiration of the people along the route who applauded us and shouted encouragement, feeling a little sheepish knowing we were only doing 20 miles. We felt a little like impostors.
Ten went by fairly quickly. We smiled at each other as we reached the half, still feeling good, still together. 14, 15…I started feeling tired but still psyched knowing we only had five to go. At 17 my legs tightened up, my muscles ached, my enthusiasm waned. Sal and Don seemed strong, uncomplaining. As we passed 18 I was losing it and said I needed to walk a bit. "You guys go on," I said. "You sure?" they asked, concerned. "Tired, sore," I gasped. "I just need to walk a bit."
They went on while I grabbed some water and drank it down and walked for several minutes. Okay, I thought, I can run again now and I did, my muscles protesting hugely as I started. As I reached 20 I started looking around for my training partners but they were nowhere in sight. And as I looked further I realized that this was definitely not a good place to stop. There would be no taxis in this neighborhood as I thought longingly of the dollar bills nestled in the holder velcroed to my shoe. So I continued on, plodding, my hips as sore and tight as I had ever felt them. Six more miles to go to end this madness. How did I get myself into this?
21, 22…jeez, still four miles to go. It stretched before me like forever. I walked some but when I did it was so difficult to start up again. My muscles clamped up immediately and I felt like I had been severely beaten. My goal was just to keep moving, to get this stupidity over with. Sometime around 23 I saw a welcomed familiar sight ahead of me: Don in his red shorts. He was walking. He was like a mirage, I was so happy to see him. Seeing him was a lifeline to me. I caught up to him. "Oh man," was all he said when he saw me.
For the next 3.2 miles we ran and walked, encouraging each other, comparing pain, slowing when the other needed rest. 26 miles. "We’re there," we said to each other and smiled through the haze of pain we were feeling. "Ok," Don said, "just point two to go." We all but dragged each other across the finish line and gave each other a big sweaty hug after our medals were bestowed upon us. I was crying and they weren’t tears of joy. They were tears of sheer pain. God, I thought, this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.
We found Sal and other friends on the sidelines and they hugged us and congratulated us, excited by our accomplishment. But I wasn’t so excited. I was too tired, too sore, I could barely move. Someone said, "Well, Sam, are you ready for Honolulu?" and I stared incredulously. "Honolulu? Fuck Honolulu," I said. "I’m never doing this again."
That was four years ago. I went on to run Honolulu that year, six weeks later (which I wouldn’t recommend), and I am now training for my 8th marathon. I never would have believed it if you had told me then. But the next day I felt a euphoria that I had never felt before. Something about that accomplishment gets into your blood. Something about that accomplishment makes you feel a special pride that I have found in nothing else. It’s a remarkable thing to be able to say, "I have run a marathon."
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