The temperature was in the lower 70s, clouds dotted the sky, a slight breeze skimmed off the lake and we were surrounded by more than 32,000 people. What a perfect day for a first race.
It was Chicago’s Shamrock Shuffle, the largest 8K road race in the world and I was finally getting the opportunity to run a race with my husband. Though neither of us are avid runners, I’ve always wanted to do a race with him. He’s cheered for me at my races, but I wanted him on the frontline, not the sideline.
We decided to run the race as part of the Imerman Angels, an organization that provides one-on-one support for those with cancer. I was running on behalf of my two cousins, Jimmy and Chubby who died of cancer. (With the support of family and friends Hubby and I raised $525! Thanks again to all who donated.)
There’s something magical about races, a sense of community, excitement and strength that everyone should get to experience at least once. And today was my husband’s day.
A few minutes before the race was to start, we were jittery with anticipation, marveling at the crazy ways people paired running gear and shamrocks. Hubby was worried I’d leave him behind. I reminded him how he had trained way more than me and that he would be fine.
Then the crowd lumbered forward. We were off.
We paced ourselves fairly slow, as I always fear I’ll run out of gas at the end of the race. My smile grew as we neared one of my favorite views. It’s just as we’re about to duck under Michigan Avenue, you can see Nordstrom above you and the bobbling mass of runners sloping below.
Around the first mile I felt a stitch in my side. Whoa, what’s going on? Not too long ago I ran 3 miles and felt like I could have done it backward, now I’ve got a stitch at Mile1? This isn’t good.
Meanwhile Hubby’s chugging along like the little engine that could, giving me encouraging grins every few steps. We hit up the drink station and I thought Mile 2 would be better, but at the end of that one, someone had swapped my legs for concrete pillars.
Now Hubby’s shooting me some concerned looks, he can tell I’m hurtin. I’m wondering what’s going on with my body. I’m hot, I’m sluggish and it seems my runner’s high is late on arrival.
“If you want to go ahead, that’s fine. I don’t want to drag you down,” I told him.
He shook his head. “No, we finish this together.”
The temperature climbed and I could tell I was hot, too hot. I saw an onlooker with a water bottle and wondered if I could ask him for a swig. I started to think about all the people I was running this for. I heard my cousin Chubby tell me: “Now girl you finish this race, you ain’t that big.” And I imagined Jimmy smiling at me in a fur coat. (One of my favorite memories of him is when a bunch of us went to try on fur coats for fun, he tried to talk Hubby into getting one for me. Hubby wisely refused.)
I thought of my Twitterfriend who was diagnosed with cancer two weeks after having her first child, of my friend Glenn who’s an amazing man and lost his mom to cancer. She had to be spectacular to raise such a great person. I thought of Andre and his stark honesty about his courageous battle, a little girl named Anna who has since passed. All of them fighters, all of them great. If they can fight such a rotten beast like cancer, surely, surely my ass can make it across the finish line.
“You’re doing great baby,” Hubby smiled at me. I just nodded. My cheeks were on fire and I was starting to get chills. I knew I was dehydrated and overheated. This was not good at all. Instead of being smart and stopping to walk and get something to drink, I plodded forward.
A black woman in the crowd yelled for us to dig deep and keep running, that we were almost there. That helped me kick it up. Hubby and I rounded the corner that was the last leg of all major Chicago races. It’s a hill. (Why do they put the end of the race atop the only hill in town?)
And we dug, dug, dug our way to the top of that hill. We turned the corner, and could see that beautiful banner that reads: FINISH.
A woman who was quite… rotund passed me and I thought: No way. I sped up, she did too. I sped up more and kept it up so that she wouldn’t even try to catch up. Hubby was right next to me. Just before we got to the finish line, we embraced the cliché, clasped our hands together and crossed.
“We did it baby,” he said.
Yes, I thought. We sure did.