I wasn’t one of the 37,455 runners who crossed the finish line of the Chicago Marathon this year. I registered for it. I even started training. But I couldn’t do it. Not this time around.
The year since my husband and I ran the 2011 marathon has been challenging for our family. We lost my aunt, the woman who raised me and was a grandmother to my children, and then I wound up out of a job. After two pivotal life changes within seven months, running another marathon moved to the bottom of my priority list.
My husband, meanwhile, stuck with it and ran the Chicago Marathon a second time. Even if I didn’t have the desire or motivation to run myself, I wouldn’t have missed being there to support him. I even dragged both our puffy-eyed, half-conscious children out of bed at 5:30 a.m. so the four of us could make the 45-minute journey from the South Suburbs to the city together.
I was excited for him as we piled into the car and he did his final gear check. But once we hit I-80, a lump of regret swelled in my throat. Why hadn’t I kept up with the training? Why had I given up so soon? Why had I let myself fail without even trying?
I had lots of excuses for dropping out of the race, some more valid than others. Before I lost my job, we planned two summer vacations, which meant I would miss a total of three weeks’ training and some of the longer, and most crucial, runs. But lots of marathon runners skimp a bit on training and still finish. A bigger problem was my foot, which started nagging me as the training schedule ramped up. After rupturing my plantar fascia 11 weeks into training the previous year, I worried the same or worse would happen again. What if I hurt my foot so badly that I couldn’t run anymore?
If I had truly wanted to run a second marathon, I would have ignored my aching foot with the help of a cortisone shot as I had done the previous year. My primary reason for quitting this time was that I no longer had the energy or the passion. When I lost my job six weeks into training, I knew it was over for me.
The morning of the race, dropping off my husband and watching him and thousands of other runners head toward the start line, was bittersweet. I wanted to be there to see him finish, set a new PR and feel the rush of personal victory. But I also itched to be out there with him, to experience the singular pride and joy of crossing that finish line one more time.
Before the 2011 race, my husband and I signed up for text alerts so we could track each other’s progress. I run much slower than he does normally, but because of my injury we weren’t sure if I would even finish. My longest training run had been the 16-miler when I hurt my foot.
We parted ways shortly after the race started, and I took it slowly and mile by mile. I didn’t have a time goal; I just wanted to finish. Right before mile 20, when I was exhausted and beyond doubting myself, I got a text that my husband had crossed the finish line. It was one of the best moments of the race for me; knowing he had made it carried me through my last six miles. When I crossed the finish line an hour after him, he was right there waiting for me.
This year I was determined to do the same for him.
I signed up for his text alerts so my kids and I could follow his path — or at least trace part of it. We met him with shouts of encouragement and a homemade sign near mile three and again just before the halfway mark. I wanted him to feel our support, but I also enjoyed reliving the thrills of the race.
About 20 minutes before his estimated finish time, we pushed our way through the crowd to the bleachers near the finish line. We needed just the right vantage point, and this was it: The kids could see over the adults in front of them, and my husband would be able to find us in the crowd.
When we spotted him after that final curve, my heart raced as we screamed his name. The look on his face when he saw us was pure joy, and it was as if I were experiencing those last 400 meters — the best part of the race, if you ask me — right by his side.
I wasn’t one of the 37,455 finishers at the Chicago Marathon this year. In fact, I don’t know if I’ll ever cross that or any other finish line again. Sometimes watching the person you love win and sharing in his happiness is enough. This year it was a victory for us both.