*I wrote this Oct. 22, 2006
When I crossed the starting line, I was terrified and wondered “What in the hell am I doing?” It was very cold with wind chills in the mid-to upper- 30s and a little drizzle here and there on the course.
But the only chills I got was from hearing the crowds cheer, especially because I shamelessly had my name plastered in big yellow letters across the front of my black shirt. (A friend of mine gave me a valuable tip to put my name across my chest so that people could cheer for me by name.) It was amazing to continually hear “Yay Melanie!” “Keep going Melanie!” “You look great Melanie!” I think I smiled during 95 percent of the run.
It was cool to see the neighborhoods from a different perspective and the support along the course was unforgettable. From the live musicians, to dancing cowboys, marching bands and high-fiving little kids, all of it pushed you to: Just. Keep. Going.
Some of the highlights included running through the Loop and seeing the endless sea of runners in front and behind you. It’s weird because I felt a bond with these people. We were tight because we were all there grinding out the same absurd goal.
Around mile 6 I heard: “Iz dat my gurl? Iz dat MY GURL?” I look around, I see no other sista-gurls, so I begin to suspect the person is hollering at me. I turn around and it’s my blonde-haired, blue-eyed, buxom friend who hails from D-Town by way of C-Town and is the hoodest friend I’ve got. True to form, she’s sporting a white bandana around her head. I love her.
We run for a bit, then commonsense kicks in. She’s WAAAAY faster than me, so if I’m running near her, I need to slow down.
Hands down the most breath-taking part was Chinatown. Seeing the dancing dragons and turning that corner down Wentworth, going under the pagoda (It’s a pagoda!) and the people who spilled onto the streets, applauding you all the way along a narrow path. I was stunned and simply uttered “wow.”
However, the best part was my friends. Team Melanie. They rocked. Hubby was the team captain and he organized my support system, getting them matching black T-shirts with stark yellow block letters that read “Team Melanie” on the front and “I run for lupus Chicago Marathon Oct. 22, 2006” on the back. They signed up for e-mail updates so they could track me as I cruised along the course. Members of Team Melanie were at miles 2, 8, 13.1, 21 and 22 through 25.5. Some stood for hours in the cold, others saw me early in the race, went to have dim sum and then caught up with me toward the end. They were completely amazing and I swear they ALL got me across the finish line.
Especially Hubby and my friend JB. They caught up with me in Chinatown and that was around mile 20. I looked up and saw two figures in dark clothing running toward me, in my marathon-muddled mind, I though two men were trying to kidnap me. I started to run away from them.
Then Hubby said: “Baby! It’s me!” I stopped and laughed. They ran with me a few miles, JB was near his apartment, so he peeled off to go home and Hubby stuck with me. Then there we were, just the two of us clomping along the route. I was tired and couldn’t really feel my legs. I turned to Hubby and asked: “Am I even running anymore?”
“Yes, you are.” He smiled. I clomped on.
A little less than a mile before the finish, Hubby clapped me on my back and said: “Baby, this is all you. You got this.”
I put my head down and glared at the asphalt. Then came the only hill in Chicago and the smartest of all course planners always put the finish line of the big Chicago races just on the other side of this lone hill.
Half way up, I see a marathoner in a wheelchair. He’s not moving. A member of First Aid is yelling at him: “DO YOU NEED HELP? DO YOU WANT ME TO PUSH YOU?” The marathoner shook his head no, repositioned his arms and began to grind up the hill.
I was inspired. I dug deep, really deep. I remembered Hal Higdon telling us to pump our arms. Soon, I had defeated the hill and could see the Finish Line banner. Cranking up Beyonce’s “Ring The Alarm,” I brought it home.
I finished in 5:23:28, averaging a 12:20 minute mile. Not the fastest, but I finished with dignity and upright, which was my goal. 🙂 My legs were really sore a few hours after the race, but by Tuesday, I felt really good, just a smidge sore.