In the Name of the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful Precious Beloved
This Sunday, 45,000 people will run the Chicago Marathon. Two years ago, on 10/10/10, I was blessed to complete the Chicago Marathon in honor of my late daughter, who passed away the year before, after a hard-fought battle against lymphoma. It was one of the happiest days of my life, even though most of my body was in severe pain.
In 2009, a few months after my daughter died, I watched my cousin run the Chicago Marathon in her honor, and I was totally inspired to do the same. My cousin told me that, if I decided to run, he would run with me. I took him up on his offer. So, starting in May 2010, I started training: running week after week, gradually increasing the number of miles as the weeks and months went by.
And when the day finally came, I could barely sleep the night before. On the morning of the race, I kissed my family good-bye and walked downstairs to the Starbucks in the hotel lobby, to get my blueberry scone to chomp on before the race. The anticipation and nervousness was in high gear as I walked with the thousands of other participants towards the start line in Grant Park. I met up with my cousin, and we waited patiently together for the race to start.
Which it did.
As we crossed under the Grand Ave. bridge, my cousin said to me, "Can you believe that you are running the Chicago Marathon?" I said, "No." But, run it we did. For the first 14 miles, we did great. We took in the wonderful crowds downtown and in Lincoln Park; I saw my beautiful wife and kids on State St., waving at me at mile marker 2 (God bless my wife for bringing our three kids to watch me run that day). The weather was fantastic, and we were cruising and taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of this most extraordinary day.
As my cousin and I crossed the halfway mark, seeing our wives and families once again, it felt like we barely ran anything at all. "Wow," I thought, "we could finish this thing in less than five hours (I'm not a fast runner)." By about mile 15, my legs began to hurt a bit, but I could still keep going. At around mile 18, we stopped for a bathroom break, and that is when it got very hard.
Unfortunately, it was extremely hot and humid, and the weather took its toll. The sun was beating down on my cousin and me; we could barely run in the stifling humidity. The second half of the race had less trees and shade, and it made a huge difference. We took frequent walking breaks, sometimes for more than a mile at a time. By about mile marker 23, which is around U.S. Cellular Field, we could barely run. I remember walking over the Dan Ryan Expressway and telling my cousin, "Let's run at the next mile marker."
And we did, but the "run" was barely a jog. The last stretch up Michigan Avenue was brutal, and we could not help but walk most of that stretch. By about mile 24, there was a man on a microphone yelling, "You have two miles left! You will finish the Chicago Marathon!" At that point, from sheer fatigue and exhaustion, that goal seemed quite elusive.
But, we kept going. In fact, despite all the pain I felt; all the exhaustion; all the fatigue; never once did I contemplate stopping. Never. If I had to crawl across the finish line, I was going to do just that. I just had to finish this race for my daughter. I just had to. At about mile 25, we started to "jog" again, as I wanted to finish the race running. That last few hundred meters, up the HILL of Roosevelt Ave., were the absolute most brutal part of the race.
But then, I turned the corner to the left and saw it: "FINISH."
I broke down in tears , and my cousin had to hold me to prevent me from falling to the ground. All the months of training; all the hours and hours away from my family; all the injury (I pulled my hamstring during training) and aches and pains; all the sweat and blood; it all came down to this: seeing that sign that read, "FINISH." I knew that as I crossed the finish line, with a time of 5:37, my daughter was sitting on that sign, waiting for me to finish with a huge smile on her face.
It was one of the happiest days of my life. I was in severe pain; my legs were on fire; I literally could not sit down after the race; but, the elation I felt was indescribable. That medal that they gave me for finishing the race is one of the most precious material things that I own, and it will be so forever.
This Sunday, the very same cousin who ran with me two years ago - and almost had to be hospitalized afterwards - will be one of those 45,000 runners. I will be with him every step of the way, even though I will have to be working at the hospital. I pray he finishes the race safely and soundly, with medal in hand and smile on face.
No, I will not run another marathon: it took too long to train, and frankly, I would rather play golf badly on Sunday morning than run 12 miles. Moreover, I want that one race to retain its very special status.
Still, I am forever grateful to the Lord for blessing me with a cousin who inspired me to undertake the enormity of running a marathon. I am forever grateful to the Lord for having that cousin run it with me step by step, stride by stride. In fact, as we ran, I told him, "I will never forget this...as long as I live," holding back tears as I said those words.
But, more than anything else, I am forever grateful to the Lord for giving me one of the happiest days of my life: the day I ran and finished the Chicago Marathon on 10/10/10.