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Running Down a Dream: I Did Just That in Chicago

By , SparkPeople Blogger
There are many days in our lives that will define who we are and what we are made of. Let today be your day!

One of the most defining days in my life came on Sunday, October 11th, the day I ran my first marathon--the 2009 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. A dream I have been envisioning since I took up the great sport of running 3 1/2 years ago in the spring of 2006. The journey hasn’t always been easy, but it has been well worth the blood, sweat, and tears I put into the training.

While waiting to board my plane on Friday I had my first run-in with another runner traveling from the Dallas area to run his 50th marathon. Having already qualified for Boston in 2010, he was running Chicago to improve his qualifying time for a faster corral. Talk about feeling out of my league, that was a true understatement--but he was more than kind to tell me the tales of his own 30 year running career. What I learned is, we all came to running with our own goals in mind, but quickly discovered the great joy it brings to our lives as we overcome the obstacles the sport can bring to us. I have learned so much hands-on knowledge from other runners, but most importantly I take away much more--the camaraderie that few amateur athletes share and that is our true love of the sport!

Arriving at Chicago's McCormick Place to pick up my race packet and to attend the Expo I was left even more overwhelmed as so many runners donned their attire from past marathons, especially the Crème de la Crème--Boston. I began to have big doubts as to whether I was ready to tackle 26.2 miles, after all I still felt like a newbie, a novice, a fish out of water.

Picking up my race packet

All was put to rest when I had the pleasure to meet running legend, Kathrine Switzer, the woman responsible for paving the way for all female marathon runners today. For those of you who are unfamiliar with her, she is the woman who "challenged the all-male tradition of the Boston Marathon to become the first woman to officially enter and run the event. Her entry created an uproar and worldwide notoriety when a race official tried to forcibly remove her from the competition," according to her website. If you are looking for an inspiring book about this great woman, running, and life in general, I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of her memoir titled Marathon Woman.

She was so kind and eager to share her passion for this great sport and to spend her time with me. As to be expected, I was totally overcome by my emotions (yes, I was crying) just having the honor to meet her, but for her to share her advice with me, a new marathon runner, was priceless. She told me to stay off my feet on Saturday as much as I could, make sure to refuel at mile 20, and most importantly, enjoy the experience. These are words that will forever stay in my heart from a truly marvelous woman.

Me with Roger Robinson and Kathrine Switzer

Some people are thrilled to meet movie stars; my thrill was to meet the running legends that have brought so much to the sport and have taught me so much as a runner and now a coach. Not only did I have the pleasure to meet Kathrine Switzer, I met running great Hal Higdon, Bart Yasso, Chief Running Officer at Runner's World magazine, as well as Roger Robinson, one of the world's elite runners and authors on the sport of running. The Expo was truly one of the high-lights of my weekend and one I will never forget. I even bought a first edition of Ms. Switzer's book in which she wrote the following to me "Running gives us everything...especially ourselves! Go for it, it's MAGIC!

Me with Bart Yasso

Saturday I did as I was advised and stayed off my feet which was more difficult than I ever imagined. Looking out at the beautiful city of Chicago from our downtown hotel with all the attractions I longed to see was tempting, but I was not going to let the opportunity to have well-rested legs go by the wayside, so I did as I was told.

That evening I had the honor and pleasure to meet Coach Jen, her husband, children, parents, and friends for dinner. We shared a great meal of pasta which helped relieve some of the pre-race jitters that were beginning to settle in. I asked Jen if she was running with music (which she wasn't) and what she planned to wear, which was still up for debate as the weather forecast was still uncertain.

Like many of my previous races, I found it quite difficult to sleep, but I finally dozed off somewhere around 11 p.m. in hopes that I would not sleep past my 0500 alarm time. Amazingly, I slept well and was up and at 'em early race day morning. I decided to go with a short sleeve purple tech shirt, my blue running vest, black capri running pants, that I thankfully bought at the Expo, along with removable arm warmers, which were also purchased at the Expo. I added my lucky hat and white gloves and headed downstairs for my standard pre-race breakfast of oatmeal, a banana and some coffee. For the first time ever, I felt queasy with my breakfast but I knew I had to get something down or else I would have a tough go during the first part of my run.

I went upstairs to my room, brushed my teeth, brushed my hair, made one last bathroom stop then we headed the 1.2 mile trek to the starting line. The streets of Chicago were filled with runners making the mass exodus from their hotels to the course. The sky was still dark and there was crispness to the air which told me this was not a fall temperature--in fact this was like winter for this southern belle. The temperature was 30 degrees with a light breeze and for someone who had spent countless mornings running in 80 to 90 plus degree temps, this could have easily been Alaska, as far as I was concerned.

I waited in my pre-determined area as other runners began to ascend to the place where we were all going to leave our mark on the Windy City. I met a guy from Illinois who was also running his first marathon and he was so convinced that he was NOT going to finish that I spent a good 20 minute convincing him he was. We both were. This truly helped keep my nerves in check as I was doing more convincing with him than I was with myself. To know that we would be running with many of the world's elite runners was nerve jarring enough, but more importantly knowing that we were competing with no one else but ourselves brought a challenge beyond words.

Saturday's blog will go into great detail as to how running my first marathon and the obstacles I faced parallel my own healthy living journey.

Have you had a day that has defined who you are and what you are made of? If so, how has it changed your outlook on life and this great journey we are all on?

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