On the Trail in Delaware

When I think “Delaware,” I’m not really sure what comes to mind most of the time. First state in the Union? Joe Biden? That time when I was nine or so and my grandfather took us flying in a Cessna out of a tiny airport somewhere in the state? Basically, it’s a state that I know exists, but despite its proximity to my birth city of Philadelphia, I’ve never spent a whole lot of time there, except the aforementioned time when I was nine and occasionally when I’ve passed through on I-95.

At any rate, I certainly don’t automatically associate Delaware with outdoorsy sports like trail running, so when I did a search for Delaware races on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, when my sister and I would be visiting family in Philadelphia, I was somewhat surprised to come across the Beau Biden Foundation Trail Run. Huh, that sounds fun. How bad could it be? I thought. Sure, it wouldn’t exactly be my usual fare of flat road running, but my philosophy is that you can survive just about anything for 3.1 miles, and this was only a 5K. Besides, it would be for a good cause and would be a good challenge to look forward to post-physical therapy. So, I signed us up.

Training required a bit of creativity, as Chicago is not exactly known for its rugged, mountainous terrain. Mostly just happy to be back out running again, I made do with my usual routine (intervals, tempo runs, and long runs, plus strength training on my off days) with some “hill” repeats thrown into my long runs. I use the term “hill” loosely, but Cricket Hill over by Montrose Beach does provide a slight elevation change and, at least strictly speaking, qualifies as a hill. It was going to have to get the job done; I really didn’t have much else to work with. Besides, the race was going to be in Delaware, not the Rockies, right? Again I thought to myself, How bad could it be?

Turns out, I underestimated the difficulty of this race a tad. I got my first inkling of what we were in for as my sister and I stood atop the hill by the starting line, taking in the beautiful panoramic view of fields, rolling hills, and woods. Scenic for sure, but whoo-ey, this was gonna be rougher than expected!

Blue sky, hills, woods, and fields.
View from the hilltop by the starting line.

Fortunately, I didn’t have much in the way of expectations going in. My main concern was finishing without rolling an ankle and ending up back in physical therapy. Besides, it had already become abundantly clear that any “hill” training I had done was woefully inadequate for the terrain at hand. So as we set off from the starting line, we had no real time goal or goals around if/when we might want to walk.

Runners milling around outside the barricades of the race starting area. A blue banner reading "Velo Amis" is stretched out above the starting line.
Starting line of the Beau Biden Foundation 5K/10K Trail Run.

The first mile or so of the race was about what I expected, mostly rolling fields, a couple of hills, nothing too wild. Where things got exciting though was around 1.5 miles in, where the trail entered a wooded area and narrowed to the point where we had to run single-file. I already hadn’t been running full-blast, but I really had to slow my pace here to avoid slipping in the mud as we scrambled downhill, and to avoid tripping over tree roots and rocks along the way.

As I uttered aloud after a particularly gnarly stretch, “Chicago did not prepare me for this.”

Little did I know, it would get EVEN GNARLIER. We emerged from the woods only to be faced with a massive, almost-literally-impossible-to-run-up hill. Well, probably the people who actually won the race could do it, but those of us bringing up the rear definitely ate a slice of humble pie, with most of us slowing to a walk on this portion and the subsequent steep downhill portion. Again, much more important not to break any body parts than to set speed records!

Following that portion, my legs felt like rubber. Though we hadn’t yet finished even the 5K distance, exertion-wise I felt more like I had already run at least a 10K, if not further. I willed myself back into a run for the last flat portion and for the last stretch of woods. Figuring that we had to be close to the finish line at this point, I more or less held pace on the hill as we emerged from the woods, turned the final bend, then headed up the last hill to the finish line. Despite having to slow down considerably for much of the race and even walk a fair bit, I finished in just under 39 minutes with my sister right there with me. Champs!

Though I am now back in Philadelphia and will sleep exceedingly well tonight, thanks to the combination of post-race exhaustion (and let’s be real, post-race cheesesteaks and hoagies), I had a great time checking off Delaware off my list today. Even better? My new associations with “Delaware” are “shockingly beautiful scenery,” and “a gnarlier-than-expected trail race.” Lesson learned: never underestimate unfamiliar terrain!

Return to Running

Greetings! I have emerged from my winter hibernation. Wish I could say I spent the time taking long, idyllic winter runs out by the lake, but alas, the day after my Wisconsin race, I actually ended up with a wicked case of peroneal tendonitis, a somewhat uncommon but not-totally-unheard-of injury.

How did this happen? You ask. Well, the short answer is that I overdid it (said every injured runner ever). Since the Wisconsin race had been so short, I figured I was good to go for a 10-mile long run the next day. This turned out to be an exceedingly poor decision on my part. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS AT HOME, KIDS.

About 7 miles in, my right ankle started feeling tight. Not thinking much of it, I shook it out while waiting for the next red light and continued on my way. Shortly after getting home, though, I went to stand up, and could barely put weight on my right foot. For the next week, I could hardly walk without screaming pain in my right ankle and the bottom of my foot any time I took a step. Just getting to the L and home from the L, normally a short, easy walk for me, turned into absolute agony.

I finally went to the doctor later that week. Ended up in an ankle brace for 3 weeks, no running at all…not that I could have even if I wanted to! To be honest, though, I didn’t mind taking my routine indoors to the stationary bike as the temperature dropped and the holidays approached. When I got out of the ankle brace after New Year’s, my doctor gave me the option of doing a home program of balance exercises and ankle strengthening, or going to physical therapy for 4-6 weeks. In this case, I decided to invest in my long-term running capabilities, and opted for physical therapy. I figured they would be able to help identify any underlying issues, and hopefully give me some ideas to avoid anything like this ever happening again.

It ended up being about 8 weeks total, but Erika Fisk and Lauren Parsons at Athletico North Andersonville worked wonders. Turns out my problem wasn’t ankle strength at all, but rather weakness in my hips and glutes, particularly on my right side. The two of them were awesome, and put me through all kinds of exercises to work on not just my hips and glutes, but also my core, calves, and single-leg balance (very important for runners!). Some of my favorites (in no particular order):*

  1. Clamshells: 3 sets of 10 on each leg, with or without a resistance band depending on the difficulty level needed. You should feel them in the glute of the top/working leg.
  2. Single-leg runner’s stance: 3 sets of 10 on each leg. Your standing leg should be slightly bent, your back leg behind you as though you are running. Keep your hips level as you lean slightly forward from the waist. Again, you should feel it in the glute of your standing leg. The link walks through some progressions you can do.
  3. Eccentric calf raises: 3 sets of 10 on each leg. As the linked article points out, they are also helpful for Achilles issues.
  4. Monster walks (forwards and backwards) with resistance band: 3 laps of 10-13 steps each direction (lap=one length forward, one length backwards). You’ll feel this one in both glutes.
  5. Side steps: 3 laps of 10-20 steps each direction. Again, you’ll feel this one in the glutes.

Once I was actually running again, we also worked on adjusting my cadence ever so slightly. Turns out a 5 percent increase (from ~168 steps per minute to ~176 steps per minute) was enough to get my glutes activating the way they needed to while I was running. Between the cadence adjustment and increased strength, I have noticed a HUGE difference. I’m much lighter on my feet, and my single-leg balance and stability have noticeably improved, especially on my right side.

Bringing it to the present, as of this past week, I have “graduated” from physical therapy. My long runs are now back up to 6 miles, pain-free. I’ve signed up for the Illinois Half Marathon next month, and tomorrow? It’s new state day! I’ll be running my first race of the 2018 season in Delaware: the Beau Biden Foundation Trail Run. Not only will it be a new state, but it will be my first-ever trail race.

In sum, it’s great to be back in it. Here’s to being injury-free, and here’s to the next round of new states!

*These exercises are what worked for me. Nothing in this list should be construed as medical/physical therapy advice. If you are currently injured, talk to your doctor or physical therapist.

Update: A Turkey Trot and WISCONSIN!

Not much has been going on in my day-to-day running life since my October updates, and with the holiday season in full swing plus some other projects I have going, I haven’t been updating as much as I would like. But, I did get to run two fun races in the last few weeks. First was the Grove City Thanksgiving Wattle 5K on Thanksgiving, which I ran back in my home state of Ohio (alas, I have done several Ohio races already, so it didn’t count toward the state tally). Second was Saturday night’s Festivus One-Miler in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which did indeed count toward the state tally. Race recaps below.

Thanksgiving Wattle

Runners mingling in front of an orange banner reading "The Thanksgiving Wattle"
Waiting at the starting line for the Grove City Thanksgiving Wattle.

About two weeks before Thanksgiving, I got a text from my sister.

“Are you running a 5k in cbus for thanksgiving?”

Thinking nothing of it, I answered, “8k but yes planning to!” (At the time, I was fairly certain I’d be doing the Columbus Turkey Trot 8K in Upper Arlington).

“Noo I was gonna say we should do a 5k together”

*cue record scratch sound effect*

For a brief moment, I thought to peek outside in case there were pigs flying by my window. My sister, who hates running (although she is a fitness buff in all kinds of other ways), and has complained vocally to me every time she’s had to run for any reason, was asking me…VOLUNTARILY!…to run a 5k. Could this actually be real?!

She was not kidding, so I delightedly scrapped my plans for the 8K and found us the Thanksgiving Wattle 5K in Grove City, and my sister began a two-week Couch-to-5K redux training regimen to get ready for the big day (the rest of you, don’t try this at home).

Race morning dawned a tropical 30 or so degrees, but sunny. Mom agreed to put Thanksgiving prep on hold for a couple of hours to watch the live comedy show that was about to unfold, Dad packed up the camera, and at around 7am, the family schlepped over to Grove City for packet pick-up. I definitely miscalculated here. Being used to the chaos and bedlam of Chicago traffic and parking, when the organizers sent an email cautioning us to get there early in order to find parking, I took it to mean REALLY early, lest we end up parked a gazillion miles away from the starting line. Alas with the giant mall parking lot available by the AMC theater, it turns out I catastrophized way too hard in my time estimates. So, we all ended up sitting in the car for about an hour and a half after my sister and I picked up our packets, waiting for the race start at 9am. Oops. At least the car was warm?

Pre-race, my sister and I decided we would try to run it together. Her “dream goal” was to break 30 minutes, but her more “realistic” goal based on her two weeks of training was to finish between 30-35 minutes. We agreed that we’d start off a little easier than my usual race pace, which would put us just under 30 minutes if we held it, and see how that felt. If we had to slow down, no big deal. It was a turkey trot, not the Olympic trials.

About 15 minutes before the race start time, we made our way over to the starting line across the parking lot, marveling at the runners braving the frigid morning in shorts and tank tops as we pulled on our gloves and hats (pretty sure the tank top- and short-clad runners were the ones who actually won). Even just standing outside for 15 minutes made my feet go numb, so once the race started and we took off, I spent a good quarter mile feeling like a particularly uncoordinated Bigfoot.

Once I got the feeling back in my feet, though, I had a great time. The course itself was a quick out-and-back route, and featured a couple of rolling hills back through the neighborhood behind the mall. I ran what I gauged to be a medium-hard pace, about what I would do for a tempo run (certainly not slacking), and my sister kept up like a champ. I checked in every so often to see how she felt, but she never wavered in her insistence that we keep the pace, even on the tougher uphill stretches.

With no expectations whatsoever, we made the turn onto the final straightaway. I spotted the finish line clock, and much to my surprise, it had just ticked over 28 minutes. Not bad…a time that once required nearly an all-out, PR pace was now apparently just “medium hard” for me, effort-wise…hooray for improvements!

At that moment though, I was more excited that my sister’s dream goal of breaking 30 was solidly within reach. “Yo, we’re gonna break 30!” I said, hardly able to contain myself.

She immediately perked up out of her mile-3 drudgery.

“Feel like you can sprint to the end?” I asked.

“YES!” she exclaimed, and gleefully took off in a sprint.

Following her lead, I dashed as quickly as my feet would carry me for that last tenth of a mile, and the two of us finished in just slightly over 28.5 minutes…a fantastic first 5K time for my sister. Mom and Dad met us at the finish line to celebrate, and the best part? Getting our pumpkin pie “finisher prize” to take home for dessert!

Festivus One Miler

Nighttime; a sparse crowd of runners by an inflatable "Start" arch in the middle of a city street with assorted Christmas decorations.
At the starting line of the Festivus One Miler

You could say that from my home base of Chicago, checking off a race in Wisconsin is relatively low-hanging fruit, and you would be correct, especially for a race in Milwaukee, which is only about an hour and a half away. That said, sometimes it’s nice to throw in an “easy” state, so I figured I would end my 2017 season with a December race in Milwaukee.

When I came across the Festivus One Miler on runningintheusa.com, it immediately jumped out as the race to do. I’d never raced just a straight mile before, and was curious what sort of time I could post. At the same time, the spirit of the race was fundamentally lighthearted, featuring a ceremonial “airing of grievances” before the start, and a beer stop at the half-mile mark. So really, my goal became seeing how fast I could run a mile while stopping for a beer halfway through (and ideally not puking on the way to the finish line).

I’d originally planned to run the race with a friend and his wife, but alas, they had to bail last minute due to the dreaded December crud going around. Fortunately, it wasn’t too difficult to make last-minute arrangements to get myself to Wisconsin…I reserved a rental car for later that day, and around 3pm I headed up to Milwaukee, giving myself plenty of time to find parking near the race and pick up my packet.

Truth be told, I spent more time driving to and from the race than at the race itself, but for the short time I was there, the Festivus One Miler certainly delivered on what I anticipated to be its humor and lightheartedness. A couple of minutes before the race start, they played excerpts from Seinfeld over the loudspeakers as an “intro” to the holiday made famous by the show, and true to the promise in their advertising, we then all partook in a collective airing (read: indistinct shouting) of grievances. Then, we got on our way, dashing up Brady Street toward the awaiting libations.

Perhaps my only grievance about the race itself was that at the beer stop, the beer was warm. They had warned us about this ahead of time, but nothing can really adequately prepare a person for the flavor of warm Bud Light, which can only be described as…unfortunate. My original intent was to finish the beer before continuing on, but I got a few sips in before I just couldn’t. But! I thought brilliantly to myself. Maybe I can sip it WHILE I run the last half mile! 

So I headed out from the beer stop, warm mini Bud Light in hand. This turned out to be a terrible life choice, because running=shaking, and shaking beer=foamy disaster. My gloves probably still smell like booze. At any rate, I choked down a few more sips of foamy, warm beer mid-run before finally deciding the multitasking involved was not worth the effort, and without missing a beat, tossed the rest into a trashcan that I passed by in the last quarter mile.

Having bailed on the beer, I could fully focus on finishing strong, though I really didn’t have too high of expectations. Much to my surprise, though, I ended up finishing in 7:24, well below my previous mile PR of 8 minutes (which, it should be noted, I had done on a treadmill without trying to drink a beer halfway through). Success? I’d say so!


So, after solidly breaking the 8-minute mile barrier for my last 2017 race, I am heading into the holiday season feeling energized and excited. Wishing you all a happy Festivus/Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanzaa/New Year’s/etc., and looking forward to seeing 2018 takes us all!

Arkansas Traveler

One of the things I love most about running is the people. Though I mostly train solo and wouldn’t have it any other way, on race day, I get such a rush from the camaraderie of my fellow runners, the race staff and volunteers, and the friends and family who come to cheer us all on. Very little in the world compares to that feeling of unity, common cause, and all-around positive energy, whether it’s an 80,000-person race or 80-person race. The race I ended up doing in Arkansas this past weekend definitely fell on the 80-person side of the spectrum, but I have truly never encountered a friendlier, more charming group of people, from fellow participants to volunteers, in any race I’ve ever done.

To start from the beginning, I stumbled into the Hot Spring County Homeless Coalition’s Running for Cover 5K Run and Fun Walk by sheer coincidence. For the past few months, I have been trying to visit a friend of mine in Arkansas, but the trip kept getting derailed for one reason or another, most recently because of my cat being sick and not stable enough to leave with a sitter. Fortunately, by late September Kitty Girl had stabilized enough that I felt ok about scheduling the trip, so we finally set a date for this past weekend.

With plane tickets in hand at last, I did a quick search on runningintheusa.com for races within a 50-mile radius of Little Rock the weekend I was scheduled to be there. My options were either the Soaring Wings of Conway Half Marathon/10K or the Running for Cover 5K. While I am sure the Soaring Wings of Conway Half Marathon/10K is a wonderful event (and I am itching to take another crack at the 10K distance sooner rather than later), the Running for Cover 5K won out for having a 9:00am start time as opposed to a 7:00am start time. When you are Not A Morning Person and ON VACATION to boot, such considerations matter. Especially when your friend, who is also Not A Morning Person, has very graciously agreed to chauffeur and accompany you on your adventure!

After my most recent two hellaciously hot and humid slogs in Pennsylvania and Chicago, I am happy to report that race day dawned 65 degrees and overcast. As I ate my pre-race bagel with peanut butter, I silently gave thanks to the weather gods that I had finally gotten a race day with reasonably ideal weather conditions. Hooray for being able to aim higher than mere survival! I had no idea what course conditions would be like, but if it was flat, I was hoping to break 28 minutes. Barring that, PR-ing would be the next best thing, or maintaining a sub-30 minute pace if the course was particularly hilly. Or at least if I had to drop down to “survival” as my goal, it would be because the course turned out to be something reminiscent of the Leadville 100, not because the weather was too hot. A different kind of challenge!

Besides the info provided on the registration page when I signed up, I hadn’t been able to find out much about this race ahead of time. All I knew was that we were supposed to meet in the Malvern Taco Bell parking lot sometime before the 9am start time. A colleague at work pointed out that this sounded like the beginning of a murder mystery. My worries centered less on being murdered and more on showing up at this random parking lot in Malvern, AR, and finding no one else there. However, I’m happy to report that (spoiler alert) I did not get murdered, and when we arrived at the designated Taco Bell shortly after 8, a good-sized crowd had already gathered.

Once we got there, I made a beeline for the registration table while my friend made a beeline for a coffee refill at the nearby Valero station. Turns out that I was one of just a tiny handful of non-locals participating. One of the organizers asked where I was from, and when I replied, I also mentioned that this was my Arkansas stop on my quest to run a race in all 50 states. She absolutely lit up, excitedly asking how I found the race, and what brought me to Arkansas?

I explained the story, and much to my surprise, it led to my becoming something of a mini-celebrity at this little race. When they made the pre-race announcements, I got a shout-out from the stage and wild cheers from the crowd when they learned of my 50-state plan and that I had ended up at their race for my Arkansas stop. I usually try to avoid the limelight whenever I can and go out of my way to fly under the radar, but in this case, the reception was so heartwarming I couldn’t help but enjoy everyone’s enthusiasm, friendliness, and the general air of that famous Southern hospitality.

Not long after the announcements, it was finally time to head over to the starting line and get into position, runners in the front, walkers in the back. I wasn’t quite sure how fast the group was likely to be, so I seeded myself just behind the runners in the very front. As soon as the clock hit 9:00am, one of the race volunteers shouted, “GO!” and we all took off, dashing out of the parking lot and onto the adjacent side road.

Out on the course and taking in the scenery, it reminded me a lot of Nelsonville, OH, a town just outside Athens, OH, where I went to college. The route passed by a few roadside churches and a smattering of mom-and-pop stores, but the surrounding landscape was absolutely stunning with its tree-lined hills rolling majestically into the distance.

Ah yes, hills. Did I mention those? While the course was mostly flat and thus familiar terrain for this Chicagoan, we did have one substantial hill to contend with. The fun part was during the first half of the race, when we got to run down said hill. I just went for it, gleefully flying as fast as I could go without completely losing control and falling on my face. I felt like a small child, and it was all I could do to keep from squealing with delight. The simple pleasures in life, amirite?

After the downhill sprint, I dropped back to my normal race speed, which I figured I would hold through the turnaround point until I had to contend with the uphill climb, then I would maintain perceived effort level. It was some time shortly after the turnaround that I noticed, much to my surprise, that I was actually one of the lead female runners. Holy crap! I realized at that moment. I might actually place! I had never found myself in such a position before (and to be real, likely won’t again for quite some time), but it definitely provided a huge boost of energy and motivation going into the final stretch!

At last, I saw the uphill stretch looming ahead. “All right, you got this,” I said aloud to myself, psyching myself up for what I knew would be the hardest part. Yet, I trusted that the speedwork I’d done for the past few weeks would get me through the climb without too much trouble, and it turned out to be true. Once I got to the top, I stole a peek over my shoulder, and realizing I was home-free with no one in striking distance, I sailed for the finish line about half a mile in the distance, crossing the line 3 seconds under my previous PR time (which, I may add, I set on a very flat course!).

But the best part of all? Y’all, I PLACED, outright winning my age division! As someone who is very used to back-of-the-pack finishes, I could hardly believe it, and I got such a kick out of the fact that I actually for once had to hang around for the awards ceremony. Plus, in waiting around, I got to meet some lovely people, with conversations ranging from what states I was planning to hit next to (more importantly) where my friend and I should go to get breakfast afterwards (the answer, as it turns out, is Randy’s City Cafe, in case you find yourself in Malvern sometime and need somewhere to eat).

In all seriousness, I couldn’t have asked for a better all-around race experience or a friendlier group of folks to run it with, and I will absolutely treasure the memory of this race (and the rest of my time in Arkansas) for a long time to come. To the good people of the Hot Spring County Homeless Coalition, thank you so much for the warm welcome and for putting on such a fantastic event! And more importantly, kudos for the important work you all are doing in your efforts to aid those in need and bring a much-needed homeless shelter to Hot Spring County.

To support the efforts of the HSCHC, mail a tax-deductible donation to:
Hot Spring County Homeless Coalition, Inc.
P.O. Box 472
Malvern, AR 72104

Banner reading "Running for Cover 5K Run / Walk, HSC Homeless Coalition" hanging on the front of the stage.

Taco Lentil Soup

With the weather starting to cool off, soup/stew season has officially arrived! To “celebrate” on this dreary, drizzly day, I whipped up an old favorite: taco lentil soup. I got the recipe from a friend (original source uncertain), who made it for me when I visited her for dinner a few years ago. Since then, I’ve played around with it a bit, always enjoying the little variations I’ve come up with, but it’s always been a reliable fixture in my rotation, whether I’m running or not! Tonight’s version is featured below.


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 1/2-1 tsp salt (to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 packet taco seasoning (I like Ortega or Old El Paso)
  • 1 14.5 oz can vegetable broth + 1 can water
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 14.5 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained (can also substitute ~1 cup dried black beans)
  • 1 14.5 oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained (can also substitute ~1 cup dried garbanzo beans)
  • 1 cup dried brown lentils, rinsed


  1. In soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper. Sauté until translucent, ~5 minutes. Add garlic and taco seasoning, stir until taco seasoning evenly coats the onions, and sauté for another minute.
  2. Add the broth and water, tomatoes, beans, and lentils. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 45-60 minutes, or until beans and lentils are tender.
  3. Serve with sour cream (or plain yogurt) and shredded cheese as toppings. Pairs nicely with a plain or whole-wheat baguette.
  4. Serves 4-6.


  • Sauté onion with ~1/4-1/2 cup red wine.
  • Add 1 cup of frozen corn (or 1 14.5 oz can) along with the beans.
  • Throw in a few cups of your leafy green of choice about 10-15 minutes before taking the soup off the heat.
  • Add a few tablespoons of chopped cilantro at the very end, or use as garnish.

The Psalm Distances

For something short and sweet…

Yesterday, my Facebook memories reminded me about the time I read an internet comment where someone thought the 26.2 (marathon runner) bumper sticker on someone else’s car stood for a Psalm verse. In the spirit of this person’s confusion, I Googled the Psalm verses corresponding to various race distances. The hilariously apt results:

26.2 (marathon): Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind. So far, not a test I have accepted.

13.1 (half marathon): How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? I would say this a very accurate description of what mile 9 feels like.

6.2 (10k): Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony. Those middle distance races will do that to you.

3.1 (5k): O LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Sounds like starting line chaos to me!

But seriously, these all need to be made into T-shirts, if they don’t already exist.

Spectating in Chicago: #ChicagoMarathon 2017

Even though I’ve now lived in Chicago for a few years, it still blows my mind that major national and international events happen here with some frequency. Events that show up in major newspapers and get covered extensively on national and international news. Except now they are close enough to where I live that I can sometimes actually see them in person without a whole lot of logistical challenge. Oh, the Chicago Marathon will be happening this weekend? Cool. Let’s just hop on the L and head over to Lakeview to catch a glimpse of some OLYMPIC MEDALISTS AND RECORD-HOLDERS PASSING THROUGH TOWN, NO BIGGIE!

Truly, you know you are a running geek when you wake up before dawn in an attempt to catch the world-class runners at miles 8-9 of a marathon. I have watched races before, usually to cheer on friends who are running at mere mortal pace, but have never been there early enough to see the true elites. Truth be told, I was so excited for this that I actually woke up a few minutes before my alarm clock, which basically never happens except maybe Christmas morning.

[Image: Sun just barely peeking over the horizon in a clear sky over Lake Michigan] I am a complete night owl, so this sight is not one I see with any kind of frequency.
While the weather was a little hotter than ideal for running, it was perfect for spectating. We got to Lakeview around 7:30, which fortunately gave us a few minutes before the action happened, unless you count “action” as being “watching unsuspecting cars accidentally turn onto the course (after first driving the wrong way down a one-way street!!!) and get yelled at by the police and course marshals.” Which in that case we did have a little bit!

Soon enough, though, we saw the lead police cars and motorcycles, with the first pack of wheelchair racers close behind in formation. So many people think races are boring to watch, but I guarantee these people have never seen a live, major marathon. Seeing the first group of athletes barreling down the street, for every division (wheelchair, men, women, and then the masses), was nothing short of humbling and inspiring.

The first pack of wheelchair racers pass by in a blur. Somewhere in this photo is the men’s wheelchair division winner Marcel Hug.
The lead pack–men’s division. If you zoom in and look really closely, you can see the head and orange shoes of this year’s men’s winner Galen Rupp.

NOTE: I had every intention of getting a picture of the women’s lead pack, but I was too busy trying to spot the favorite Tirunesh Dibaba (today’s winner for the women) and Jordan Hasay (3rd place finisher today and now second-fastest ever American woman marathoner) to actually have time to take the picture by the time they had already passed by. Mea culpa!

As a rec runner, it is mind-boggling to see the elites in the flesh, running as fast as they are and making it look so effortless. Their biomechanics, and strides are nearly flawless. No hip wobble whatsoever, no extraneous bobbing or arm motions, beautiful efficiency and economy. They looked like they were out on a casual Sunday long run, barely breaking a sweat, except then you realized they were nearly keeping pace with the lead car, i.e., an actual car (with a digital time display mounted to the back) that was doing more than just idling along.

Gradually, more and more runners started filling the course. Behind the elites were the sub-3:00 folks, and what surprised me most was just how big a contrast there was in terms of number of people on the course between sub-3:00 and 3:00. When the 3:00 pace group appeared, it was almost visually like the start of another race all at once.

[Image: thin group of runners coming down the street] Still the sub-3:00 crowd, but not quite at the level of “keeping up with the lead car.” Obviously still very, very respectable athletes.
[Image: much more robust crowd of runners coming down the street] The ~3:00 crowd, per the pacer’s sign roughly in the center of this photo. We are now solidly in “mere mortal” territory, but still faster than most people will ever be.
And the crowd of runners just kept coming from there, never noticeably thinning out the entire time we stayed, which we did until we saw some of the 4:30-ers, then decided to call it a wrap.

By the time I got home, all I wanted to do was go on a run, inspired by seeing so many fantastic runners of all shapes, sizes, and speeds in today’s Chicago Marathon. I’m not quite ready to take on the distance just yet, but after today, I will admit the siren song of the marathon is calling me just a bit more loudly and insistently than before. Someday I will do it, and maybe even in Chicago. But no matter what, it will be far, far behind the lead car!