Two weeks ago when I wrote that I wanted to run with the slowest runners in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, a few things happened. First, I received hundreds of e-mails from runners pitching the idea of running with them. Secondly, there was a lot of negative chatter on the other blogs and forums about why race directors even let these people out on the course.
Until you have walked, or more to the point run and walked and run and walked a mile or 26.2 miles in these amazing athletes shoes, you will never know the work , pain and dedication these amazing charity runners put forward to make it across the finish line 26.2 miles away. This is one story.
1989- A guy named Larry decides to train for and run in the Chicago Marathon. On race day while he makes his way through the city with the 9000 other athletes, his family races from check point to check point to cheer on their dad. His little girl watches her dad, running, larger than life, crossing the finish line, it makes an impression on her.
2009- That little girl is grown up, her name is Lauren Kaminsky, she is standing at the back of the pack at the Bank of American Chicago Marathon, ready to take on a journey that started 20 years ago. Her dad, now unable to run, because of bad knees is there for his daughter with advice, hugs and a special notes that brings a tear to Lauren's eyes. They won't be the last tears of the day, but they were the most inspirational.
Lauren is our Athlete of the Month and a slow runner, but that's just scratching the surface of who Lauren Kaminsky is and the people that she touches every day. She had been to Grant Park before, in 2007, and was pulled off the course, when the conditions became too dangerous for the race to continue. " They gave us a finishers medal, but I didn't finish, how can you wear a medal you didn't earn, I needed to get back here and finish what I started."
Her mantra "forward is a pace." Never having been in the back of the pack, it's a new spot to me, Lauren seems comfortable, I am a little jumpy at first, but as I look around, I notice this is where a good amount of the Charity Runners are. Charity runners are just that, people running for a certain charity or cause, and there are a lot. Last year Charity Runners brought in millions of dollars that helped benefit people all around the Chicagoland area. They are not fast, but they are determined.
We are back, far back, not at the very end, but you can actually see it from where we are standing. The starting gun goes off, we have to wait about 15 minutes before we make it across the mat, this is going to be a long day, but that reality doesn't seem to effect Laurens resolve, she has a goal. Lauren has a race plan, run for 6 minutes, walk for two, and as we take off with the rest of the crowd, she is pumped to be back, ready to earn that medal.
Mile #1, 10:15 Pace- "I feel great! This is a perfect day. Two years ago, I was already soaking wet with sweat and sensed something was going to go wrong. This is perfect!"
Lauren is wearing a pink princess crown, with her name on the top of her head. As we run, people yell and cheer her name, she makes it a point to thank every single one. " Thank you for your support, thank you for coming out, thank you."
The funny thing is that each and every time she thanks someone, it is sincere. That's the kind of person Lauren is, sincere, honest, positive. A 5th grade teacher, her kids look up to her, they leave her notes, sharing their gratitude, they run with her in P.E class, and she rewards them with a positive role model, that sets an example with every step she takes and in 26.2 miles at the back of the pack, that's a lot.
Mile #6 (10K), Just over an hour. The leaders have already past the 13 mile mark, but Lauren doesn't care. "Back here, you have fun, you get to appreciate the race and the people who are here for different reasons." Laruen is still hitting every 6 on 2 off interval, with a quick stop to potty she is still clipping long at a PR time. We chit chat, we are quiet, we tell jokes. She is slow, steady and determined.
Mile 8- Crazy Barb joins the group. If they could mass produce Lauren's friend Barb, the country would no longer have a problem with morbid obesity or depression. She is training for her first Ironman and needs to get in an 18 mile run. Barb is loud, funny as hell and the fuel that lights Laurens fire. She yells at the crowd to cheer, sings songs, and knows when to kick her friend in the butt. Barb is superstar.
Mile 10- Lauren is still hitting every mark, but beginning to feel the pain. " I have a stitch in my side and it won't go away, it's killing me." Barb tries to get her to stretch, eat something, drink something, but the pain is still there and Lauren is starting to sag. Then, it happens. So quickly Barb and I miss it at first, but Lauren is all over it. One of her students jumps out of the thinning crowd to cheer her teacher on, give her a huge hug and words of encouragement. Lauren is now re-energized, a few tears in her eyes, "that's what I needed, that was perfect timing. Next time, I am going to scatter my students every 3 miles."
Running in the back of the pack there are a lot of things that are different. The obvious-the pace isn't as frenetic, people take their time to stop for pictures, hug their family members and encourage each other as they move across the city. If I had to make an analogy-Front of the pack- Shopping at IKEA the day after Thanksgiving, BOP- Shopping at IKEA on a Wednesday in August.
Another cool part about being in the BOP, is the aid stations are less congested, Lauren enters the one at the Fleet Feet Corner, she learned just how fun that can be! As we all became a part of Marathon Musical! The classic Animal House party song, Shout started to play and as we walked through the aid station. Not one to miss an opportunity to motivate her friend, Crazy Barb, started to throw up her arms and dance (like you would at a wedding).
The next thing you know, as if it were planned, the entire aid station, volunteers, crowd and all were dancing in sync to the song. Bollywood couldn't have topped this production.
Mile 13-Lauren has crossed over the river and things are thinning out. The drag queens are gone, the massive crowd in Grant Park a memory, for the first time, I can hear our foot steps, I can see pain in her face, even Barb is quiet. The course is quickly filling up with the walking wounded, there are athletes limping, laying on the side of the road, stretching, crying. Guts can only get you so far, then you have to dig deep, find that thing inside of you to go on, Lauren is in pain, but she keeps going. Her watch beeps to remind us to run, like Pavlov's Dog, Barb and I run, Lauren is behind us now, she looks tired. Before she can say anything, Larry, her dad shows, up, with Gatorade, a hug and advice, he is in jeans, but they run together. Barb and I are quiet, Lauren is good again and ready to go a little farther.
Mile 18- The Wall-Besides being a role model for her students, earning money for Girls on The Run and one of the most positive people I have ever met, Lauren is chatty. When you are running with someone for 6:30, you rely on that to keep going. Her favorite food?- mom's pepper steak, Place she would want to visit in the world?- Europe and Castle Erbach(her maiden name), Least favorite word?- moist. We got to know each other.
It was when Lauren stopped talking, we knew there was a problem. We
had ventured into new territory for Lauren, she had never made it this
far in the Chicago Marathon, and the wheels on the bus were starting to
fall off. Our run/walk schedule was gone, she was hurting. "I hate running!" Lauren exclaimed as we hobbled along the West side of town. " "Well you're not running, you're walking, so lets kick it in gear and follow my pace booty." Barb barks at Lauren, but it's not looking good. Barb is nervous, " If I have to carry you on my back you are finishing this thing you &(*^%$, come on, walk with purpose!"
Dr. Phil, Barb is not, an amazing friend she is, Lauren keeps
going. A good mentor knows when to leave their subject alone, and Barb
decides to bag off and let Lauren be. At the same time Doug from
Detroit hobbles up, broken, battered and in pain. Lauren and Doug find
the friendship in fools and begin to talk and run together, two battered athletes with a goal, keeping each other going. "Forward is a pace."
Chinatown- Swept Up- Things are getting harder and harder for
Lauren, you can see it in her eyes, the pain is there, she is running a
marathon and 6 hours on your feet is painful, no matter who you are.
As she and Barb move through the city, the end is near, literally. The Chicago Police are behind them, announcing, "if you are passed by the pace van, you need to move to the side walk." Over and over again. As hard as they try, and as loud as Barb screams at the announcement "*&^% off, this is Lauren's day!" It
happens, they pass Lauren, she is now sobbing, not tears of joy or
inspiration, but Lauren is broken and we can all see it, except for
Barb. She runs up to the same police who are announcing that the race
is more or less over, and convinces them to change their tune, the new
announcement "Go Lauren Go!!!" Over and over again, the crowd (what's left of it) joins in and Lauren, keeps going, hurting but not hurt, this race is far from over.
In the BOP, the food is gone at the aid stations, so are most of the
volunteers, it is lonely and quiet. Strangers line the course with
candy, potato chips, cold water and chocolate donuts. There is no real
reason to be out there, but they are, for runner #1 and runner #40,000. Thanks for that.
The End- 5K To Go. Lauren, Doug, Barb and several others are still
going. They have shirts on representing their charities, loved ones
who have passed and aren't going to stop for anything. They are
crying, limping, carrying each other along. Other finishers are out on
the course, showing them their medals, yelling out inspiration, praying
Run 6, walk two is a memory. Now Lauren is running for 60 seconds with Barb counting (very slowly) and then walking. "The next light, you are selling yourself short girl, come on!"
Barb is running backwards arms out like a parent getting their child to
walk, and yelling to her friend to keep going. Lauren is pushing, the
look of pain is gone, there is no expression anymore, she is inside
herself, a place every marathon runner knows, a place they all need to
go at one time or another during a race to find that next stride, to
During the entire race, Lauren made it a point to celebrate every mile, "if you don't celebrate each mile, the next one will get even with you."
She passes Mile 26 with out a sound. She is .2 miles away from her
goal, putting her ghosts to rest, it's up to her now. Her husband runs
out to hug her as she heads up the hill on Randolph, Lauren has checked
out, she is alone in her head.
As she turns the corner, the finish line that she has tried hard not to
think about, is there. Barb takes off like a shot, yelling, screaming,
getting every last spectator to cheer, Lauren takes off to. That last
drop of fuel in her tank carries her to the end.
Right before the finish line, Barb peels off and stops. This is her
friends moment, Lauren's journey and she respects that, it needs to be
She is a daughter, she is a wife, a teacher, a role model. As she
crosses the finish line, arms in the air, she is now an official
Chicago Marathon finisher.
At this point, time doesn't matter, she did it and her family
(including Doug from Detroit) is there to share the love and pride
that is bursting out from all of them.
20 years ago a guy named Larry decided to run a marathon. Today he is the proudest father in the world.
To read Lauren's blog, click here. Tomorrow- My story- What did I do Now!