The temperature on Sunday reached 81 degrees. The humidity climbed in to 90th percentiles. By mile 6 my shirt was so soaked with sweat that I tossed it into a street-corner trash can.
My Garmin kept giving me false data. Despite five resets, it told me I was running faster and longer than actual. I tried to catch the pace team that started ahead of me and in doing so I ran the first 9 miles faster than I should’ve.
I slowed down, trusting the pace on my watch, but when I hit mile 15, while my watch said I was exactly on pace, I was almost 30 seconds per mile behind my plan. I tried to do the math in my dehydrated head of how fast I would have to run the last 11 miles to catch up. But as I saw a line of runners pressed against a fence, trying to stretch out their cramps, and recognized that the course had taken us from the skyscraper-sheltered downtown streets to exposed neighborhoods on a cloudless day, I knew there was no catching up.
Numbers don’t lie.
In the week leading up to the marathon, I researched the impact of heat and humidity on marathon times. Scientific studies show that if you planned on running in 4 hours and 30 minutes (which I did) and the temperature is 80 (which it was) you can expect to finish in about 5 hours and 18 minutes.
But this race was never about numbers. It was about running for those who can’t.
I ran for Katie Ingram, who instead of competing in the world ironman championships recovered from injury and surgery. Katie is one of the strongest people I know, mentally and physically. She once did the second half of an ironman with blood caked down her body and her arm immobilized. I ran for Katie. In my darkest moments in Chicago, when my calves cramped over the last six miles and wouldn’t let go, I thought that despite the heat and humidity and cramps that she would give anything to be here.
I ran listening to the music of people who are no longer alive. From David Bowie to Tupac, from Tom Petty to Amy Winehouse, in the final miles that often resembled a death march, I would hear a favorite song come on, think of that artist and people close to me who I associated with that song, and say to myself, I have to run until the end of this song.
I ran for Bart Yasso. I met one of my long time heroes at the marathon expo. Despite four exposures to lyme disease, and a noticable change in his speech pattern, he laced up his shoes once again. The impact of Lyme disease kept him from running and he dropped out half way through the marathon, but his voice echoed in my head to enjoy the moment.I ran for those who couldn’t run and finished the race. The fact that it took me 40 minutes longer than expected disappointed me. The emotional toll is as draining as the physical effort. But for this run, on this hot day, and with the focus on running for those who can’t , finishing was enough. Overcoming obstacles and recognizing the gift of each step is its own reward.