At 8:30 on a Sunday morning, I’m sprawled out on a lawn in Wrigleyville with my legs over my head. Visions of bread and water dance in my mind.
It’s not the unfortunate result of a night on Clark Street, but as I realize while stumbling through my order at Dunkin, I’m probably equally drunk on endorphins. Minutes after finishing a half marathon, I’m feeling the same faded elation, gleeful conclusion, and mild disbelief that usually accompanies a few beers.
Compounding my disbelief is the anticlimactic nature of it all. Since sophomore cross country, I’d pounded out thousands of miles, attended to my diet, even done ab workouts and lifted heavy things, all in pursuit of finishing half and full marathons (to be followed by a full. During the fantasies, I’d envisioned pre-race jitters. Trotting along during the early miles, ignoring the gradual onset of muscle tightness and paralyzing self-doubt. Swallowing tears during mile 12, recycling sport movie cliches, and sprinting through the finish line, basking in my own achievement and the frenetic cheers of spectators. Wearing my race T and medal for, like, a week straight. Casual humblebragging (OK, I’m clearly achieving this.)
Instead, I’m just wandering alone through Wrigley tryna get a sandwich and coffee. Not only was there no finish line or medal to speak of, I hadn’t even planned on doing a half that morning. Four weeks away from the half marathon for which I actually paid, I’d certainly budgeted for your standard long run. But per my training plan, it was ten or eleven miles along lake Michigan.
Five minutes removed from my flannel sweats, that mileage was trending toward 0. Indeed, I began my “race” not with jitters, but with fantasies of Panera dark roast and my current book. Once I brainstormed better ways to spend $2 (as if), my negativity shifted toward my pace, simultaneously too slow for my ego and too fast for my training needs.
After ten minutes, I got tired of my own whining, mentally apologized to the people I’ve subjected to much longer bitch sessions, and rocked that positive self-talk game. I reminded that literally every elite marathoner dials their pace back on long run and no, I’m a special little snowflake that can get away with doing otherwise. I rationalized that my book was kind of a downer anyway.
Negativity beat into submission, I cruised through Loyola in hopes of encountering some guys rolling into the gym and, unsurprisingly given the hour, no dice. Finally, I reached Lakefront Trail, thus commencing a picturesque tour of beaches and parks highlighted by Montrose Harbor, overlooking an unimpeded panoramic of the skyline. As I drank in the scenery, shifting winds alerted me to a dull ache in my hips. For the first time, I took a passing glance at my distance. 9.44 miles.
So I’ve ran nearly 10 miles and this is the first time I have felt even remotely tired. Dope.
A jaunt through Lincoln Park later, I reluctantly turned off the Lakefront and meandered toward an L stop. As the train tracks loomed larger, I checked my distance again. 12 miles. Pretty damn close to 13.1. Exactly one year ago, hip pain had reduced me to 15 arduous minutes of cycling, half marathon dreams be damned. Now, on a random Sunday morning, absent significant effort, my finish line lay 1.1 miles away. Restraint and training plan tossed to the wind, I flew past coffee shops and restaurants on Addison, my face twisted into a psychotic grin, basking in the satisfaction that my sacrifice and struggle had finally engendered success. So #TURNT was I that I barely registered the withering stares from the Dunkin Donuts employees I passed like five times.
Once 13.09 ticked to 13.1, I motioned to throw up my arms in a classic display of triumphance, but upon noticing a pedestrian, I gripped my pocket and totally played it off. Totally.
Finally, I glanced down at my time.
On a relatively easy day, I ran five minutes faster than my most optimistic goal.
My initial thoughts? Some incoherent variant of: “I spent the morning bumming through Chicago and it’s only 9 AM? Between this and the Hawks game and coffee with X, gonna be a good day.” Last year,a 1:46 half would been my singular crowning achievement. But now, after achieving this goal I built up so greatly, I realize that I never needed it. It’s nice to have. I’m beyond pumped for First Midwest. But running 13.1 miles in a row hasn’t, like, fundamentally changed me as a person, friend, student, kind of PR professional, writer, or athlete.
And that’s probably the best feeling of all.