Thursday, October 1, 2015

My Journey to the 2015 Chicago Marathon

When I first signed up for the 2015 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, I was beyond excited. In 2014, I had an opportunity to witness the race in person for the first time. For years growing up, I’d always roll out of bed, groggy-eyed on a Sunday morning on the second weekend of October and see my dad watching the Chicago Marathon. This was well before I started running, which was less than three years ago.

Something about the event captivated me even before I ran or really knew the magnitude of what it was. Watching some of the best distance runners and 40,000 other people run 26.2 miles through the streets of Chicago with 1.7 million spectators cheering them on seemed so cool. Seeing these runners cruise by major landmarks as well as the neighborhoods such as Chinatown was a sight to behold.

In 2014, I stayed at my friend Keith’s place in the South Loop the Saturday night before the marathon. I woke up early on marathon morning to head out to the race and watch it. At the time, I had one marathon under my belt and was planning on doing at least one in 2015.

Keith and I made our way to the corner of State and LaSalle, and it was already packed by the time we got there.  Before we knew it, the top elite runners came by and were gone before we knew it. After that, the semi-elite runners came through, followed by a herd of 40,000 runners came stampeding by. I had never seen anything like this in person.

Watching 40,000 runners, all on a mission to cover the 26.2 miles, storm through the streets of Chicago was an amazing experience. Factor in being cheered on by 1.7 million spectators, and I knew this was something I wanted to do again. Keith and I moved to the 13-mile mark to catch the elites and a good chunk of the runners come through again and head west. Runners still looked good at this point, but their journey was only about half done.

Finally, we went over to right around the 26-mile mark. Seeing runners nearing the finish line of an exhausting journey was pretty cool, too.  From that point on, I knew I had to do the 2015 Chicago Marathon.

Fast forward to this year, 2015. I submitted my application back in late winter and was accepted into the Chicago Marathon. I was excited to get all registered and get ready for it in the summer months, but I was also in the middle of training for my second marathon, the Wisconsin Marathon, in early May.

Around the same time, I was offered a position to be the Social Media Manager for Chicago Athlete Magazine. It has been such a blessing to work for the magazine these last several months. I love doing social media for the magazine and being out at races on weekends to take pictures. I particularly enjoy the thrill of covering a triathlon and just seeing people go after their goals. It’s really inspiring.

I ran the Wisconsin Marathon, and I struggled through it to say the least. Once I got around mile 16 or so, I knew my body wasn’t exactly cooperating. By mile 18, I had a cramp in my hamstring that forced me to stop and stretch it. I knew then that my dreams of hitting my goal were over as the cramps spread to the rest of my body.

I was blessed to have two Dick Pond Fast Track teammates by my side that day. First, Joe Vukits got my started off on the right foot for the first 10K. We went out nice and easy, then he unleashed me and let me run. The support and encouragement Joe provided leading up to the marathon was huge, too.

Mark Przybyla is an incredible teammate, and he was standing out on a desolate gravel road around mile 15.5, waiting for me to come so he could run me in the rest of the way. While the cramps from an unusually warm day did me in, Mark was there to support me through it all. We had great conversation throughout, and in the last mile, him and Paul Harris ran me in. Also, Fast Trackers greeted me at the finish line with a medal.

I also have to mention my three friends from Harvest, Sarah, Liz, and Kristi, who came up there to cheer me on. I saw them for the first time at Mile 9, and they drove around in their car for the entire second half of the race even though I was in a lot of discomfort and struggling. Their support was incredible.

I cannot tell you enough how much it meant to have my Fast Track teammates as well as my family and friends there with me. None of them had to get up at insanely early time to come run with me or support me, but they did.

Then began my journey to the Chicago Marathon. It started off with a little bit of rest (not as much as I truly needed) followed by running an 8K 13 days after my marathon and the Soldier Field 10 Mile three weeks after Wisconsin. I probably shouldn’t have ran these races, but running the 8K in my neighborhood and a race that finished on the 50-yard line of Soldier Field were both pretty neat experiences.

In the early parts of the summer, I entered a drawing to win a free, customized training plan from Full Potential Running and coach Eric Wallor. I consider Eric a friend and have bounced ideas off him in the past, but when my name was pulled as one of two winners of the training plan, I was thrilled.
Eric is an extremely kind guy and also extremely knowledgeable (not to mention talented) when it comes to running. I battled some hip pain/knee issues in mid-June, but we slowly began to get after the training plan he had for me.

There were some hard weeks, but I was committed to the plan. I do not run well in the summer, and training for a marathon in the summer was just further proof to me. In addition to that, something just didn’t feel right with my body. My legs ached consistently.

Despite a few brutal long runs where I pretty much got sick, I longed for the marathon and the second Sunday in October where everything, Lord-willing, would fall into place. The thought of 45,000 runners and 1.7 million spectators excites me.

The leg pain continued. At that point, I went into a major physical and mental funk. I was no longer motivated to pound the pavement for any reason. I dreaded runs rather than looked forward to them. I didn’t see how I was getting better. I wasn’t motivated at all.

I wanted to know what was wrong with my body, in particular my lower left leg/shin area. While the heat and humidity were definitely a cause for slower splits and rougher runs, I knew there was something else that was wrong.

Over Labor Day weekend, I went up to Camp Harvest for a 20s Ministry Retreat. The Lord really spoke to me about running and that it shouldn’t be an idol in my life. It’s not wrong to enjoy and love to run, but I had been putting way too much stock in it and became even more frustrated when I didn’t feel fully healthy. I knew that the Lord wanted me to be living for Him first rather than just worrying about this upcoming marathon.

The last 3-4 weeks, I’ve experienced some victories and some more frustrations. In terms of victories, Eric invited me out the Illinois Prairie Path in Elmhurst, a hidden gem of a path/trail, for a Sunday morning run. Not only did I enjoy the views, but I also had a good run with little pain for a change. I was able to run fast and simply enjoy running again.

I recently got a massage and two days later completed my final long run of 18 miles.

While I do not know how my body will hold up in ten days, I know some things for certain. I plan to enjoy this first Chicago Marathon experience to the fullest, regardless of how my body performs. I am extremely grateful for my family, friends, and teammates who will be cheering me on downtown on Sunday, October 11. Finally, I plan to run this race to honor my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is to him that I owe the ability to run and be able to do this.

This brings me to the final reason I am running this race. My first marathon, the Wisconsin Marathon in 2014, I was able to raise funds to help support the rebuilding effort of Washington, Illinois, a town devastated by a huge tornado in November of 2013.

While I know I am way behind in the fundraising game and most charities for the marathon have already finished their fundraising campaigns, I still have the desire to bless people in any way I can. This is why I will now begin raising money for Breakthrough Urban Ministries in Chicago.
Breakthrough partners with those affected by poverty to build connections, develop skills and open doors of opportunity.  The ministry is located is Chicago’s East Garfield Park, a rough area of the city with very high poverty and very low opportunity. The ministry is about “restoring the broken networks of youth and families and empowering adults in the community to achieve self-sufficiency and break the cycle of poverty.”

The great part about this ministry is that God is at the core of it. I personally have had an opportunity to work with Breakthrough. Late in 2014 and early in 2015, I had the chance to lead groups of high school students from my church, Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, down to the men’s and women’s homeless shelters on Sundays. We bought groceries/fixings for a meal before we left for the city, got there and prepared a meal, and served the meal to the men and women.

It was an amazing opportunity to serve a meal to these men and women and sit down and have conversations with them. I was blessed to be able to serve in this capacity and hope to get back to Breakthrough in the near future.

With your financial support, we can bless those who need it immensely at Breakthrough. Please consider donating to this cause and praying for the lives it will touch.  I will keep this initiative going for as long as needed in order to get the funding where it needs to go.

If you are interested in donating to this cause, please call, text, or Facebook message me about how you can do so.

I am really excited for the Chicago Marathon! It’s the month of October already, and the race is nearly here. The race weekend festivities are going to be incredible. I cannot wait to run through the streets of Chicago to 1.7 million cheering spectators and have the support of my family, friends, and Fast Track teammates. 

Everybody has a story and journey of how they make it to the starting line of the Chicago Marathon. Mine's little messy and has been difficult, but I am going to do it. Not for my own glory. For the glory of God. For Breakthrough. For family, friends, and teammates.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

God Bless,


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