Meet You at the Finish Line

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.

That guy in the blue shirt with his arms in the air is my marathon man husband, just before he crossed the finish line and set a new PR of 4:24:32.

38 thoughts on “Meet You at the Finish Line

  1. I teared up reading this. I, too, am a distance runner, and I have watched countless people I love cross finish lines as well. There is something mystical and magical about a finish line, your own and someone else’s. I can so clearly see you and your kids watching for your husband, and feel your excitement as you saw him, cheering for him as he ran the final yards of the race. Congratulations to him, and to you. It sounds like you make a wonderful team.

  2. Kathleen, what a great post. I had goosebumps, and then tears. You are such a talented writer.

  3. I really liked how you moved from your own regrets about not participating (totally understandable, by the way) to your joy at participating in a very different way this time around. It created a really interesting and different kind of emotional arc for your story: a story that initially seemed to be about confronting disappointment had me smiling by the end.

  4. I could really feel your sense of regret and loss. You took a first great line (“what, she DIDN’T race”) and tied it in at the end to show how not racing could be rewarding and satisfying in a different way.
    I am you have recovered from your injury. I’m sorry to hear about your other losses. I hope that you are healing from those as well.

    • Thanks, Stacie. I think you have to be more than a little crazy to run one marathon and even nuttier to do it again. But it’s quite a life-changing experience.

  5. Aww, that’s so awesome! I had to drop out of what would have been my first marathon last year due to injury, but was so proud of my friend when she crossed the finish line! Sometimes the timing is just not right, but I’m sure your husband will be there to cheer you on when you run your next race, whatever distance it may be!

    • Thank you! I think I’m done racing for the time being. I kind of burned myself out on it. But who knows?

      I’m sorry about your injury. Do you think you’ll train for another marathon?

  6. I enjoy everything you write. Your writing is clear, descriptive and passionate without being trite or forced. This is a wonderful, heart-felt story – I loved how you navigated all the emotions of missing out on the race and showing up for your husband. Really beautifully expressed!

  7. Congrats on both races to both of you! I am always envious of marathoners. I’d love to do it, but I cant even run one mile yet. I can relate to your feeling of regret even in the face of knowing that the choice made sense at the time you made it. I hope you can one day run another marathon if that’s what you choose to do.

    • Thanks, Michelle. I’m a firm believer that anyone can run a marathon. Before I started running, at age 39, I could barely make it around the block.

  8. “Why had I let myself fail without even trying?” This line resonated with me. I really enjoyed feeling your excitement as a spectator. It was a twist on the usual path of a story dealing with quitting.

  9. I envy runners. I have some great friends that do marathons, all the while I can’t jog to my neighbors house.

    I thought this was a great story. You had me tearing up. That’s always a good sign of a great story!

  10. Yay, I loved this! I ran the Chicago marathon seven years ago, and haven’t run one since, so I can relate. I have friends that run them and last year I went with them to Disney to watch their kids while they ran. I can relate to the bittersweet feeling of wishing I had trained so I could do it, too. It is easy to get swept up by the energy of all the runners. But I agree, I was so happy to see them at the different points where the kids and I raced to see them. It’s still exciting to watch 🙂

    I do plan to run the Detroit marathon next year, though!!

    • Thanks, Kianwi. I am super excited for you about the Detroit marathon next year. What made you decide to do another one?

      I have a friend from middle school who just ran Chicago. It was her first marathon in 10 or so years. She was so thrilled to do another one.

      So, are you in the Detroit area? I was born in Detroit and lived in Southfield, Livonia and East Dearborn before moving to Chicago 20 years ago.

  11. I really enjoyed reading this. Neither my spouse or I are runners, but this story made me really love him and appreciate him because your love was evident in your words and I was thankful for all the very different shared victories my husband and I have likewise had. Great post!

  12. This brought tears to my eyes. I, also, live in Chicago and many friend’s eu it but iknow in ever could. It would be terrible if you injured your foot permanently. I’m so happy for your husband’s success but also for the thrill and excitement and feeling of success you got right along with him. And it’s special the kids were there, too! Well done!

  13. Pingback: I Quit | Michigan Left

  14. Pingback: Hear That Voice Again | Michigan Left

Comments are closed.