I had the honor of running side by side next to Ruth for 26.2 miles through the streets of Chicago on Sunday as she ran her first marathon. It was part of the Saucony 26 Strong program where Saucony partnered 13 “veteran” marathoners with 13 first-time marathoners – for coaching, advice and support over the last six months – with it culminating with the Chicago Marathon this past weekend.
I am so inspired, impressed and motivated by Ruth. She decided only a few years ago that she wanted to run a marathon (I actually think that it was at the 2013 NYC Marathon when I met her for the first time!). She was a relatively new runner at the time and spent the last few years working on increasing her mileage. She ran her first half marathon last spring and then began the training for 26.2. I love that her age, situation (she’s a grandma!) or lack of running background dissuaded her from chasing down her goals. She set her eyes on the marathon finish line and trained her butt off the entire summer through the brutal heat and humidity – and even through a fall and stitches on her chin a few weeks ago! And I’m so proud to have been with her as she accomplished her dream on Sunday!
I initially had planned to race the NYC Marathon this year, but after Saucony invited me back to coach, I decided to change up my fall racing plans. I wanted my goal race to be out of the way by the time it was Ruth’s turn so I could give her my total attention without worry about how it would affect my upcoming race. So I looked for an earlier marathon. Ideally it was mid-September and within driving distance, but I had a slew of family commitments in the early fall and the only race that worked was Wineglass.
I was a bit worried about running Chicago only a week after Wineglass. I’m not one to promote back to back races, let alone two marathons in a week, but since Chicago would be slower than my normal training paces, Coach and I decided it was okay, given no pains or major soreness from Sunday’s race. And we left a wide range of recovery and regeneration post-Chicago. There’s no rush to resume heavy training, especially with Boston over 6 months away.
I typically start with short, light running 3-4 days after a marathon. I ran 5 days post-Wineglass. I was still a bit sore mid-week and was just plain exhausted from starting work on Monday that there was no thought of waking up earlier than absolutely necessary. I biked for 30 min on Thursday just to get the legs moving and then ran 5 miles on Friday. The run was more to ensure nothing hurt when I ran – kind of like an “all-systems go” test for Sunday with Ruth. And so overall, the week was about complete rest and recovery so that I would feel as good as possible for Chicago.
I had been looking forward to the weekend in Chicago for months. Not just because I’d get to run the Chicago Marathon or see Chicago for the first time but mostly because I know some of the other coaches within the program, some local runners and some runners who were in town for the race – and knew I’d get some amazing time with friends who I don’t get to see (or meet!) too often.
Unfortunately, my time in Chicago ended up being less than 24 hours. Between starting work last week (more on that in another post!) and having work on Columbus Day, I was going to be flying in late Friday night after a full day of work and returning immediately post-race on Sunday (landing close to 10pm). I was missing the welcome party Friday night and the celebratory dinner on Sunday.
But the kicker was a delayed flight Friday night – after it was pushed back a fourth time and departure time going from 7pm to 11:45pm, I pulled the plug and asked to be rebooked for the earliest flight on Saturday (I made the right call b/c when I woke up Saturday morning I checked the flight info and my flight ended up getting cancelled after midnight.). I was exhausted and just plain cranky – it was a long week starting a new job and I was looking forward to getting to Chicago and having a good meal and big glass of wine with some of the girls. Instead, I was in a cab at 10:30pm for a 60+ min ride home.
The silver lining in the whole ordeal was that I got to sleep in my bed and spend the entire morning with the boys. I had felt this insane amount of guilt all week – my work hours are long and weekends are really going to be when I get to snuggle and spend time with my little guys. But, after my first week of work, I was flying out straight from work and not getting home until after bedtime on Sunday. So it actually was the best case scenario because I was able to leave Saturday afternoon happy and content after a morning filled with crafts, storytime, laundry and cleaning.
I landed in Chicago at 3pm, hopped in a shuttle to downtown and walked into the hotel lobby at 4pm…and saw Laura and Lindsey at the bar. I had just seen Laura last week which made the reunion (this time not sweaty or near tears) amazing AND I finally got to meet Lindsey, another amazing runner I’ve been “friends” with for years via social media. I checked in and freshened up and returned to find a beautiful glass of wine waiting for me at the bar. Shortly after I returned, Jenny joined us and we spent the next two hours drinking, laughing and smiling at the bar. We talked about Laura’s sub-3, my new PR, Lindsey and Jenny’s road to recovery (both were injured the last couple of months). These three girls have been some of the most amazing, supportive friends and I was incredibly thankful to have them in one place for a short period of time. They were three of the first post-race congratulatory messages I received last week – and it sounds cheesy, but you could literally feel their happiness for me in the messages.
And then our group grew. Ruth, Theodora, Ashley, Katherine all joined us and before long, it felt like a reunion of some of the most amazing women I know.
Ruth and Ashley were kind enough to invite me to dinner with their family; we went to a local café for a light dinner of sandwiches before heading back to the hotel to get prepped for the morning.
We met up with the entire 26 Strong team in the lobby at 5:30am. We were staying at the Renaissance – which was great b/c it was only about a mile from the start/finish area. I FINALLY got to see Jess and catch up in person – and we chatted until it was time to walk over to the start.
On the way, we stopped at the bean for some photos =)
Soon, Ruth and I were on our own headed to the port-o-potties and start line. My only complaint about the entire race was that I was prohibited from going with Ruth in her corral. I had a lower letter bib than Ruth and so we assumed I could “go down” to hers (every other race I’ve ever run allows you to go to a slower corral). But, I was turned away from the entrance from her corral and told that it was a change to the policy this year. I felt awful because I know the 30 or so minutes before the start could be the most nerve-wracking and I wanted to be with Ruth in the final moments for support. I went into my corral and stayed off to the side as the race started – and let the corrals behind me walk by to the start. Thousands of runners passed me by while I was waiting for Ruth’s corral and I got to meet a TON of people that read here (or follow on IG), see a classmate from West Point and meet Anna and Becca!
Ruth and I found each other, crossed the start line at 7:47 and began Ruth’s celebratory 26.2 mile journey to the finish.
For the next six hours, we laughed, talked, smiled and enjoyed the experience.
Ruth was running strong and consistent miles until she felt a pain in her ankle around mile 12/13. We walked for a bit and tried running again – but the pain kept returning when she tried to run. So we decided to walk to the finish. I know it wasn’t how she envisioned her first marathon going, but I was so impressed with her attitude and perseverance to continue moving forward.
Ruth’s husband, son, daughter-in-law (Ashley!) and granddaugther all flew to Chicago to see her run. It was great because I was texting and updating Ashley as much as I could during the race. I did the same for my family last year when I ran with my sister for her first marathon and I know how much my family loved and appreciated the updates. So, lots of selfies and photos were sent in between the miles we didn’t see them (they were at three places along the course!).
And before we knew it, we crossed the finish line!
After the race, we made our way through the finisher area and family meeting area before saying our goodbyes. I ran the mile back to our hotel, showered and was in a cab less than an hour after finishing the marathon.
I loved everything about the Chicago Marathon – the spectators and crowd support are truly incredible, the course is great and the organization from start to finish is impeccable. I would definitely consider returning to race this one year (my only concern is the uncertainty of the weather – it was a pretty warm day for a marathon – which has happened a handful of times the last few years).
A HUGE thank you to Saucony for allowing me to participate in this program again. I said it last year – and it still remains true – training for and racing for marathons brings me so much satisfaction and happiness, but experiences like Sunday are even more special than running a PR race. Working with Ruth the last few months was amazing – and having the opportunity to be with her on Sunday was a day I won’t forget. And it’s nice to feel like my running is bigger than myself – that it’s more than just about me and my races.
Anyone run Chicago? What were your thoughts?
Hope you have a wonderful weekend!!! <3