I had heard that as far as first marathons go, one can’t do better than Chicago. Flat course, temperate weather, and the best marathon fans in the world cheering you on. Given my illness and then injury, I really don’t know if I would have finished without these amazing people. The signs, for one, provided constant motivation (and distractions). A sampling:
"One day you won’t be able to do this. Today is not that day."
“You’re running better than our government”
“Worst parade ever”
“I bet this seemed like a great idea 4 months ago”
“Keep going — You didn’t get all lubed up for nothing”
“I don’t know you, but I am SO proud of you”
“Keep running, the zombies are catching up”
“Remember, you PAID to do this”
The people along the course weren’t just friends and family of runners, they often appeared to be ordinary citizens of Chicago, shouting encouragement and thanks to strangers. On a particularly barren stretch of the route, near freeway overpasses and industrial lots, a man in his sixties, in a wheelchair, sat alone in front of a church. “Pick those legs up”, he yelled, “I know you can do it”. Another corner featured a pair of women, who would zero in on struggling runners, and emphatically try to convince them a bear was just behind them. “You gotta move! There’s a bear coming up!” One of them ran into the street, clapping and hollering about bears, chasing a walking marathoner back into a resigned trot. My personal hero came around mile 25. I had been breathing shallow for much of the race, and despite my best intentions, was hitting the wall. Illness had reduced my appetite in the previous days, so I hadn’t come close to carb loading, picking at a salad the night before. I walked with my hand on chest, the urges to lay on the pavement or to cry my eyes out equally strong. A lady in the thinning crowd looked noticed my anguish, and stepped into the street and put her arm around my waist. She walked with me, and asked if I could run. We ran like that for about 500 m, before the race wardens kicked her off the course. I thanked her, put my head down, and finished strong.
I couldn’t believe the hospitality and support the average person showed us. It really was the best of human spirit, and I think that’s a big part of why I’m going to do it again.