By Perri Smith
“I’ve never felt this way before, and I never want to feel this way again”, read the text message that I sent to my best friends after completing the Chicago Marathon last Sunday afternoon. Throughout the four and a half months of training, my motto was consistently, “one and done”. I would complete the marathon and retire my running shoes; my days of long distance running would be behind me. Running had become a chore, requiring 5:30 am wake-ups, missed happy hours, and an investment in body glide and Pedialyte. By Wednesday evening, however, three days after the race and once the soreness had subsided, I was already googling Berlin Marathon and New York Marathon, trying to find my next big race.
What happened in those three days that made me go from “one and done” to “sign me up for Berlin”? I had the opportunity to reflect on my journey to 26.2 and what the experience meant to me. Nye articulated it perfectly when he said that running a marathon is a humbling experience. Despite the relatively high temperatures on race day, I felt great — I would even venture to say confident—the morning of the race. My nerves had dissipated, and this race would be “just another long run with friends.” Eighteen miles in, however, my body began to betray me and my quads and calves started to cramp. I never hit the mental wall that people talk about. Instead, my body refused to listen to my mind, and my run slowed to a jog and eventually to a walk. Each time I tried to start running again, the cramps would return, alternating between a gradual tightening and a stabbing pain. Although those final eight miles weren’t as glorious as I had imagined, I finished the race.
Running a marathon gave me a new appreciation for my body and its ability to keep going. As Keshia told me before the race, quoting Assata Shakur, “A wall is just a wall. It is meant to be broken.” I am capable of more than I thought possible. I will take this mentality with me from here on out, but I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge how I got there.
Without a doubt, I could not have made it to the finish line without my DRC family. Leading up to the race, I had the privilege of not only training with DRC but also asking newbie questions of our veteran marathoners. They were more than willing to share tips about fuel (should I run with Gu or Jelly Beans?) and recovery (have you ever tried cryotherapy?). Prior to marathon training, I had never run more than 13.1 miles. As my mileage increased, I dedicated my Saturday mornings to long runs with DRC. Each week, whether it was pouring rain or a steamy summer morning, DRC encouraged me to keep pushing when I was ready to call it quits. Most importantly, my DRC family calmed my doubts and anxieties in the weeks before the race. They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself and when I let those fears creep up.
Race day reinforced all of the support that I had received through months of training. It started with a prayer with the other runners in the back of the Corner Bakery on Michigan Avenue. Between the security lines and the lines to the port-a-potties, I lost everyone from DRC but managed to find Brittany and Nye in the crowd of our starting corral. The energy and excitement was shared by everyone at the starting line, and I was incredibly grateful to share the moment with them and thankful that I wouldn’t be starting the race alone. Nye and I ran the first half of the race together, taking in the crowds and the city and checking in with one another at each mile-marker.
Just as my cramps were beginning, I passed cheer squad. I had waited 18 miles to see them, and as always, they didn’t disappoint. Seeing familiar faces, hearing my favorite songs bumping from the speakers, running through a shower of confetti, they’re all part of the exhilarating experience that is running by cheer squad. I felt like a rockstar, and the pictures prove that the other runners were staring at me in that moment. In passing the cheer squad, I also picked up Courtney, who ran with me for a bit. She gave me a few words of encouragement to get me to my family who was eagerly waiting for me at mile 23.
Even after the race, when all I wanted to do was lay in bed and watch Food Network, my DRC family reminded me that this was an occasion to celebrate. With my medal wrapped around my neck, I made it out to the post-run party hosted by Three Run Two. I was surrounded by marathoners and the communities of running crews that had gotten them to that point. I was overcome with an immense sense of pride and gratitude. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would run a marathon. Reflecting back on the experience, I realize that the main reason I could and I did was because of DRC.
Now I’m texting my friends, “What’s our next race?” It looks like I won’t be retiring from running anytime soon. It’s silly that I actually thought that because with DRC, the miles are never not coming.