A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 6; 32nd Edition
451.2 miles raced, 7480 meters swam and 202.3 miles biked in 2011
Race: Chicago Half Marathon
Place: Chicago, IL
Miles from home: 1394 miles
Weather: 60-70 degrees; bright sunshine
This almost didn’t happen.
My plan for this race was to honor the memory of those we lost on 9/11 and the service of all those after that by running the entire Chicago Half Marathon carrying a 3’x5’ US Flag. Having run pace groups before carrying a much smaller dowel road and much small sign, I at least knew to expect discomfort. But how much discomfort was the question.
At the race expo I had one of my favorite speeches of all time as the crowd poured into the seating area as I began speaking, rather unexpectedly so since it was at 4 PM on a day where the expo closed at 5 PM. Enthusiastically, they asked questions, shared stories and made me very happy that I still had the pep in my step after two days of exposing. Working with the Illinois Beef Association we were able to dispel lots of myths and ill-perceived thoughts about how beef works on the system and I knew many would be joining me, even if only in spirit, for a heart steak the night before the race. If you think this is contrary to how one should properly fuel for an endurance event, then you definitely need to do more research and let go of incorrect thought processes.
As is usual, I met so many fantastic and wonderful people that I now consider friends. I always hope they believe me when I say I want to hear how their race went but never as many as I want actually get around to telling me. I think they feel I am just saying that to be nice. If they only know I rarely say nice things- only what I truly feel- they might be more inclined to take me up on my offer. But those who already have warmed my heart and my soul as first-timers, old-timers, and everyone in between shared their own personal journey with me. Want to know what makes runners tick? Ask them and they will tell you. Want to know why some people will never leave a positive feeling with those who run into them? Because they are too busy concerned with themselves and how the world can benefit them.
Give and you will receive.
An early call for the 7 AM race had me ready for my valet to bring the car around at 5:15 AM. This sounds like I am all important or staying in a fancy hotel, when the truth of the matter is there simply is no damn parking in downtown Chicago. However, as minutes ticked by and no car showed, I caught the eye of concierge who looked startled and told me she had been looking for me. They couldn’t locate my car. In fact, they could not get a hold of the valet company who even knew where ALL the cars were. Trying to stay calm, they told me they would call me a cab to get me to the race. The only problem? The US flag I was going to carry was in the backseat of my car. A cab was not an option.
Without going into too much detail of running around like a lunatic and more than a few evil glares, I finally located my car, had my friend Lindsey drive me near the start and jumped out. When I got to the starting line I had all of 7 minutes to kill before the gun went off. However, as quickly ducking behind a tree to take care of business, I was more than happy to not have to stand around for eons. I was legitimately nervous. I simply had to represent the flag I was carrying, especially on this day of all days. In fact, my goal was to run this half-marathon in under 1:30. I had no idea if that was possible as I had not even taken one dry run with the flag.
As I lined up toward the start, I saw many people I spoke to the day before, including a trio of guys, all military. They thanked me for carrying the flag and I thanked them for doing what they do so I can goof around on Saturdays and Sundays knowing I am safe and sound in my country. This sounds hokey to some but I could not care less. This is what I truly believe and feel and there is no one who can take the pride which I have in this flag and this country away from me.
There was a palatable nervous excitement in the air for this race. I cannot tell you how glad I am that I did not miss the opportunity to run a race on the 10th anniversary of one of the days that obviously changed my life, but also kick started my running career. I was now more ready than I have been for any race.
First Three Miles: 6:23, 6:33, 6:44
With the goal of running under 1:30, I also wanted to be very cognizant of my fellow runners and not have the flag whipping around in their faces. As such, I needed to line myself on the side of the road and not dart around much, almost telegraphing each move. I knew however, that I should be able to run rather unimpeded once I got a mile or two in and looked forward to that.
Right around the one mile mark, I rounded a corner and hit one of those paved over dirt bumps in the middle of city streets. I twisted my ankle something fierce, almost to the point where I went down to the ground. I actually bumped the bottom of the flagpole on the asphalt as I gained composure. I was forced to do that little limping jog thing just to make sure that ankle was OK. I once read how Cal Ripken seemed to have no tendons or ligaments in his ankles as he would twist them all the time, shake them off and be ready in seconds. I often twist my ankles on trails runs and the like and always seem to be able to move forward within a few seconds. Fortunately, this was like that but it definitely stung.
As we headed back south after a short jaunt north circumventing Jackson Park the sun was just starting to peak through the trees. Lindsey captured this photo which really encapsulates how I felt about the entire day.
Unfortunately, a few hundred yards later, I twisted my ankle again. I was paying far too much attention to the people around me and holding the flag high and was missing the little twists and turns in the road. I had a feeling this may be a long day.
To mile 6: 6:24, 6:45, 6:40
After three miles, on a relatively cool morning (maybe high 60s at this point) I was once again reminded how even that temperature with a lot of humidity can turn me into a sweat monster. The slick polished handle of the flagpole was getting a little difficult to grasp. I actually wished it had a little more heft to it which would have made it easier to grip. A foam handle might actually be needed if I were to do something like this again.
Here we began what would be 95% of the remainder of the course along Lake Shore Drive on the banks of Lake Michigan. The sun fully over the crest of the horizon created the perfect backdrop as the flag in my hand whipped wildly in the wind. At one point a few runners were running in the shadow created by the flag and one of them looked at me and said “Pretty poignant, huh?”
Onto Mile 10: 6:33, 6:55, 6:39, 6:43
Around the 7th mile I began running with a chap from Ireland named Allen. He had forgotten his watch and wanted to run 6:35s. I told him that was about what I expected to be running and I would hang with him as long as possible and give him splits. When the 8th miles seemed to be way off I was reminded of running this race last year and having the 8th mile be way off as well. As there is nary a bit of elevation change to slow one down, I wonder why that is here. I have long ago learned how to run the tangents of any race so I was pretty sure it was not me running extra mileage. Then I remembered that the last 5k seemed incredibly long last year. I was hoping that would not be the case again this year.
Right before mile 10 I heard people cheering for what I thought was the name Apolo. I had been told that Apolo Anton Ohno was running this race and if he was right behind me I was going to be quite impressed. However, when a little sprite weighing no more than 80 lbs went zooming by, I noticed they were cheering for 12 year old “Paolo”. I was even more impressed. He would go on to run a 1:26:33 which is just mind-boggling for that age.
Bringing the Flag Home: 6:38, 6:57, 7:06, :38
As the race went on and the bulk of runners began to appear on the other side of the road, the cheers for the flag got louder and more raucous. I would raise the flag as high as I could each time and do everything I could to show it the respect possible. As I dodged every sprinkler system on the course (meant to cool runners down as the temps climbed) in order to keep the flag dry, I was reminded of what this flag means to so many, and not just those in the US. It is the symbol of freedom, obviously but it is also the symbol of hope. It is the drives so many to wish to live in this country. The opportunity here for everyone to at least attempt to succeed at what they want. The promise of more. The glimmer of what can be. Sure we have tons of flaws in this country. While America the country, may have not been completely innocent in being attacked that sunny September morning, the people who were attacked absolutely were without fault. That is usually what happens in this world. Those who suffer are not the ones who caused the problem.
But with all its faults, it is the best deal in town. This country remains the gold standard even when our economy is in shambles, our politicians corrupt and our infrastructure broken. As I closed in on the finish and realized I was going to best the time I was hoping to run by a large margin, all these thoughts were going through my mind. Even the fact that the course once again seemed to skew way too long (there is no way I went from running consistent 6:3x miles to nearly 30 seconds slower, especially when I was picking up the pace) could not keep me from being extremely prideful to be the bearer of this flag.
Someone early in the race told me that I was probably going to get the most pictures I had ever taken of me in a race. I told them this might be true but I had no delusions. The pictures being taken, the applause given out, the people who went from sitting to standing in seconds as I passed by were not doing it for me. They were doing it for the symbol of our country. The irony that one of the most tragic days in our country’s history was on a beautiful morning is not lost on me. The coincidence that here, on the 10th anniversary of that horrific day, the weather was once again gorgeous seemed to echo the American spirit. Even on the worst of days, there is a ray of sunshine.
My 1:27:47 is significant only in the fact that I had set out to do what I wanted to do. What is actually significant is that American continues to try to do the same every day. From the rest of the nearly 12,000 half marathons on the same course as me that day to the millions who just are going to work trying to get this country back on its feet, we are moving forward.
That’s all we can really ask of ourselves.